Review: John Gray’s Edinburgh: An Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Prints, Whitespace

John Gray's work depicts Edinburgh faces and architecture
John Gray's work depicts Edinburgh faces and architecture
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Painter John Gray has taken historical, mythological or autobiographical scenes from Edinburgh’s past and turned them into magical oil paintings.


People swarm around the centrepiece of each painting like gnomes on the cover of a Terry Pratchett novel. Sometimes these details are mischievous, such as the kilted men peeing against a wall in the background, while sometimes there are famous people lurking for you to find. It’s a bit predictable that Burke and Hare, Burns and Sir Walter Scott all feature, but then so do Major Thomas Weir – the Wizard of the West Bow – Gandhi, Beckett and the Grim Reaper.

Despite the famous faces, the biggest presence in this exhibition is Edinburgh itself – its dark closes and huge skies, attitudes and morals.

The multiple layers of Edinburgh’s architecture are seen through a fish-eye lens, geometrical warp lines and windows dividing the canvas into related stories.

Although reminiscent of Harry Potter illustrations, the paintings are not childish.

Gray succeeds magnificently in his mission to suggest debauchery in Wizard of the West Bow without actually painting anything nearly as naughty as you could see in a music video.

After a while the sheer weight of detail in these scenes fae Scottish history becomes tiresome. There are only so many expressions people in crowds can pull.

The two autobiographical paintings feel out of place with the collection, but are among the most emotionally charged items on display, perhaps because of their comparative simplicity.

Gray says his biggest influence is Walt Disney’s understanding of the relationship between architecture and character, and that he is interested in the shift in viewers’ perspective of Cubist planes as they move around the art.

Make of that what you will, the effect of the exhibition is that of enchanting narrative art. The collection explores Edinburgh’s mythology and architecture through new eyes.

Run ends April 26.