Countless friends had urged me to see writer and artist Alasdair Gray’s mural in the Òran Mór, Glasgow, before I eventually did. Inexcusably, I lived on the same road, but whenever I visited the venue I was foiled by a crowd-control barrier and a sign reading ‘engaged for an event’. When I finally plucked up the (Dutch) courage to hop the railing and race up the spiral staircase leading to it, the painting surpassed the superlatives friends had used to describe it.
Self-defined as a ‘Glaswegian pedestrian’, Gray’s odyssey can be tracked across Glasgow’s West End. When I first moved to the city, I stumbled across what felt like a Gray-mural-a-week. Ascending from the subway at Hillhead, a tiled aerial view introduces the neighbourhood. Another, which snakes around the warren of stairwells in venerable pub the Ubiquitous Chip, was exchanged for Gray’s hot dinners and cold pints. His presence is painted on the city; he’s a local, living myth.
The Òran Mór mural was my final discovery. It spreads across the ceiling of the former church and creeps down the walls, in a riot of ancient mythic symbolism, astrology and local legend. It’s a song of praise to the colour blue, but also a heartfelt, humanist plea for people to come together for a better future: ‘Work as if you are living in the early days of a better nation,’ Gray spells out in gold lettering across central beams.
First published in Issue 200