The writer and artist, who has died aged 85, won't just be remembered for his murals and novels. His spirit permeates the cityby Laura Waddell / December 29, 2019 / Leave a comment
In a spring 2019 interview we conducted with Alasdair Gray for Gutter magazine, exploring his urge to translate Dante’s Divine Comedyand his interest in the themes of afterlife and purgatory within, Alasdair told us that he didn’t believe in the immortality of the soul. It was a delicate balancing act not to pry too closely into his own recent brushes with ill health and mortality—but the parallels were intriguing. When we asked him, “Do you think the writer or artist has a different relation to death? What of your work would you like to live on?” He replied, “Everyone who makes something that survives them has overcome death to that extent: especially if it is another human being. It may also be a well-built wall or other work of art.”
How others were inspired by Alasdair’s work can be summed up best in a quote from his novel Lanark: “Glasgow is a magnificent city,” said McAlpin. “Why do we hardly ever notice that?” “Because nobody imagines living here,” said Thaw… “Think of Florence, Paris, London, New York. Nobody visiting them for the first time is a stranger because he’s already visited them in paintings, novels, history books and films. But if a city hasn’t been used by an artist, not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively.” This is the gift he bestowed on many.
We were fortunate to publish Alasdair a few times in Gutter, a decade-old Glasgow-based literary magazine now run by a co-operative board of editors. When reading the submissions for each issue, it’s hard to overestimate how many young writers are inspired by him, walking in their minds the everyday and surreal depictions of the city he conjured up. I can’t think of Alasdair’s writing without also seeing his paintings in my mind’s eye: a sort of 3d depiction of familiar streets, tilting surreally, with the presence of heaven and hell, good and evil, always lurking in their cracks and crevices and in the light that shines down from above.
Not long after I first read Lanark, I was a student taking a year out midway through my degree, fatigued by depression and the need for funds. I was working in a jewellers’ in the West End of Glasgow to the mad soundtrack of hundreds of watches ticking…