On his death, The Guardian called him “a father figure in the revival of Scottish literature and art”. Now a mural by one of Scotland’s most famous writers and artists may soon be recognized with listing status.
Historic Environment Scotland (HES) is seeking public input on proposals to list Palacerigg Visitor Center in Cumbernauld – home to Alasdair Gray’s mural of Scottish wildlife – as Category B due of the particular architectural and historical interest of the work.
The mural of Scottish Fauna, painted by Gray in the entrance hall of the Palacerigg Visitor Center in 1974, is an accomplished example of 20th century wall art and a major example of the work of the artist. His depiction of Scottish wildlife shows an idealized countryside scene, alongside industrial landscapes. The work explores natural and human ecology and humanity’s place in the universe – themes that Gray revisited throughout his artistic and literary work. The mural also features many of the motifs commonly used by Gray, including the “tree of life” and the entwined figures of Adam and Eve in the lower left of the scene.
The mural was commissioned by naturalist, writer and journalist David Stephen, who was closely involved in the planning of Palacerigg National Park and Visitor Center and its focus on wildlife conservation and education. Gray lived on-site with Stephen and his family in the Warden’s House while painting the mural, which is now among Gray’s earliest public artwork. Almost thirty years after it was painted, in 2001, Alasdair Gray and his assistant Robert Salmon carried out restoration work on the mural after it suffered water damage.
Although best known for his writing, Alasdair Gray began as a visual artist and studied design and mural painting at Glasgow School of Art from 1952 to 1957. He was admitted to Glasgow College of Art the same year that his mother died, and despite lacking the necessary qualifications, he immediately impressed his teachers and classmates with his visionary projects.
After graduating he was commissioned to paint murals in and around Glasgow while earning a living as an artist, teacher and writer. Along with his book illustrations, Gray’s public murals are his best-known visual legacy today.
As the mural is embedded into the fabric of the Palacerigg Visitor Centre, the proposed listing would cover the building in order to protect the cultural significance of the mural itself.
Dara Parsons, Head of Designations at HES, said: “Alasdair Gray is one of Scotland’s most important cultural figures of the 20th century, and his mural at Palacerigg is significant both as a major example of a painting late 20th century public mural and as an important surviving example of his visual art which contains many of the themes and motifs he explored throughout his work.
“Inscription is a way to recognize and celebrate what makes our built heritage special and to ensure that this is taken into account in future decisions. We want people to have a voice in this process, so we encourage anyone interested in the mural to participate in our consultation.
As well as The Scottish Wildlife Mural, Gray made several other murals which you can still see in Glasgow. The Belleisle Street Synagogue, Greenbank Church, and the walls of private homes, among others. One of the last he completed in 2012 was the 40ft mural for the entrance hall of Hillhead tube station in Glasgow’s West End and he is also responsible for the stunning ceiling mural of Òran Mór Auditorium. It is one of Scotland’s largest works of public art.
The public consultation will take place until Tuesday 28 June and will be accessible via the HES website. Members of the public are encouraged to send their views and comments by email to [email protected] or by contacting HES via the Heritage Portal. HES lists buildings and structures of particular architectural or historical interest that help create Scotland’s distinctive character and through which we can discover more about the stories of our past. All designation requests are studied and evaluated by a dedicated team.