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Scottish artist Alasdair Gray listed status Glasgow


On his death, The Guardian referred to him as "the father figure of the renaissance in Scottish literature and art.” Now, a mural by one of Scotland’s most celebrated writers and artists could soon be recognised with listed status.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) is seeking views from the public on proposals to list the Palacerigg Visitor Centre in Cumbernauld - which houses Alasdair Gray’s Scottish Wildlife Mural - at Category B due to the special architectural and historic interest of the artwork. 

The Scottish Wildlife Mural, painted by Gray in the entrance foyer of the Palacerigg Visitor Centre in 1974, is an accomplished example of 20th-century mural art and a major example of the artist’s work. His depiction of Scottish wildlife shows an idealised countryside scene, alongside industrial landscapes. The artwork explores natural and human ecology and the place of humankind in the universe – themes which Gray revisited throughout his artistic and literary work. The mural also features many of Gray’s commonly used motifs, including the ‘Tree of Life’ and the embracing 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 Country Park and Visitor Centre and its emphasis on wildlife conservation and education. Gray lived on-site with Stephen and his family at the Warden’s house while painting the mural, which is now among Gray’s earliest surviving public artworks. Nearly thirty years after it was painted, in 2001, Alasdair Gray and his assistant Robert Salmon carried out restoration work to the mural after it suffered water damage. 

Although he is most famous 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 qualifications needed, he immediately impressed both his teachers and fellow students with his visionary projects. 

Following his graduation, he was commissioned to paint murals in and around Glasgow whilst making a living variously as an artist, teacher and writer. Alongside his book illustrations, Gray’s public murals are his best-known visual legacy today. 

As the mural is embedded in 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 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.” 

As well as The Scottish Wildlife Mural, Gray did several other murals you can still see in Glasgow. Belleisle Street synagogue, Greenbank church, and the walls of private homes, among other places. One of the last he carried out in 2012 was the 40ft mural for the entrance hall of Hillhead subway station in the West End of Glasgow and he is also responsible for the stunning ceiling mural in The Auditorium of Òran Mór. It is one of the largest pieces of public art in Scotland.

The public consultation will run until Tuesday 28 June and can be accessed via the HES website.  Members of the public are encouraged to send in their views and comments by emailingdesignations@hes.scot or contacting HES via the Heritage Portal. HES lists buildings and structures of special architectural or historic interest that help to create Scotland’s distinctive character, and through which we can discover more about the stories of our past. All designation applications are researched and assessed by a dedicated team.  


7th June, 2022

By Kara Kennedy