Alasdair Gray mural could get listed status in recognition of his care for the environment

A mural by one of Scotland’s most celebrated writers and artists could soon be recognised with listed status.

By Katharine Hay
Tuesday, 7th June 2022, 5:49 pm
Updated Tuesday, 7th June 2022, 5:50 pm

Alasdair Gray painted the Scottish Wildlife Mural at the Palacerigg Visitor Centre in Cumbernauld in 1974.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES), the leading public body for protecting the country’s history and heritage for future generations, is seeking views from the public on proposals to list the centre at Category B because of Gray’s 20th century artwork at the entrance foyer.

Category B listing is given to buildings of special architectural or historic interest that are major examples of a particular period, style or building type.

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The Scottish Wildlife Mural by Alasdair Gray which could soon be recognised with listed status Pic: HES

In its depiction of Scottish wildlife in an idealised countryside scene, alongside industrial landscapes, the mural explores natural and human ecology, and humankind’s place in the universe – themes Gray revisited throughout his artistic and literary work during his career.

The mural features many of his commonly used motifs, including the Tree of Life and the embracing figures of Adam and Eve in the lower left of the scene.

It was commissioned by naturalist, writer and journalist David Stephen, who was closely involved in the planning of the visitor centre and its emphasis on wildlife conservation and education.

Gray, who died in December 2019, lived on site with Mr Stephen and his family while painting the mural, which is among the artist’s earliest surviving public works.

A quote from David Stephen, who commissioned Alasdair Gray's wildlife mural Pic: HES

It had to be restored in 2001 by the artist and his assistant Robert Salmon after it suffered water damage amid fears that it was beyond repair.

Although most famous for his writing, Gray began his career as a visual artist and studied design and mural painting at Glasgow School of Art from 1952 to 1957.

After graduation, he was commissioned to paint murals in and around Glasgow while making a living as an artist, teacher and writer. Modern murals have been painted at prominent city landmarks to replace those that have been lost through redevelopment or wear and tear.

As the mural is embedded in the fabric of the visitor centre, the proposed listing would cover the building to protect the cultural significance of the mural.

The Tree of Life featured regularly in Alasdair Gray's writing and artworks

Dara Parsons of 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 later 20th century public mural, and an important surviving example of his visual art which contains many of the themes and motifs he explored throughout his work.

“Listing is a way of recognising and celebrating what makes our built heritage special and ensuring this is taken into account in future decisions.

“We’re keen that people have an opportunity to have their say as part of this process, so we encourage anyone with an interest in the mural to take part in our consultation.”

The public consultation will run until June 28 and can be accessed on the HES website.

The listing of his mural would be a posthumous honour for author and artist Alasdair Gray

Members of the public are encouraged to send in their views and comments by emailing [email protected] or contacting HES through the online Heritage Portal.