Edd McCracken, 'Priceless Forgotten Mural to be Restored by Gray' (Sunday Herald, 12/04/2009)
It has lain mouldering under peeling wallpaper in a dilapidated pub in New Lanark for years, forgotten by the art world, but now The Falls of Clyde has been rediscovered and is to be meticulously restored by the man who created it: Alasdair Gray, one of Scotland’s most famous living painters and writers.
The find is the stuff that art historians dream of. The Falls of Clyde, one of Gray’s earliest murals, was lost to the public after 40 years of forgetful Lanarkshire landlords covering it over with wallpaper, dodgy paint jobs and light fittings.
The mural, which is 4ft high and 25ft long, is the only landscape painting Gray has ever completed. He is to pick up his paintbrush to begin restoration work on the mural from tomorrow.
Gray describes the work as one of his favourites and has been reunited with it thanks to Andy Boyle, a businessman who has reopened The Riverside Bar and Restaurant, along the New Lanark and Falls of Clyde Walk, where the work was created in 1969.
Boyle said: “When I moved to the village a year ago I visited the tavern, which was in a state of disrepair, but I was intrigued when I caught a glimpse of some artwork hidden away in the lounge. The then-landlord said that some guy called Gray had painted it on the wall and that they had discovered it after stripping wallpaper in 2006. It had been covered in wallpaper and paint for over 10 years.”
Gray - most famous for his novel Lanark and his mural on the ceiling of Glasgow’s Oran Mor venue - will spend about 10 days in the bar restoring two sections of the painting that have been totally destroyed, one of which includes the image of his first wife.
Gray was commissioned to paint the mural for a new restaurant extension by the owners of what was then Tavern Kirkfieldbank. At the time he was a relatively unknown Glasgow School of Art graduate, and was recommended to the landlord by an artist friend.
Gray took to it with his usual idiosyncratic gusto, sleeping on the tavern’s floor for the six weeks it took him to complete.
According to Boyle, Gray was “delighted” to discover the mural was still intact. Several of his murals from the 1960s have been destroyed by buildings being demolished.
“He said it was one of his favourites,” Boyle added. “We’re delighted that he agreed to come back. Nobody cared about this before. The previous owners didn’t look twice at it. Instead they put light fittings on it, which has done the most damage. All the colours were faded. There is also a section missing where Gray had originally painted his wife’s face. But it is now all prepared and ready for the restoration. It is too good a painting not to bring back to life.”
Boyle got in touch with Gray in fortuitous fashion: when he was searching for someone to repair the damaged wall and prepare the mural for repainting, it turned out that the restorer he contacted was a personal friend of Gray’s. Phone numbers were hastily exchanged.
While Gray began life as a mural painter, completing works in the Ubiquitous Chip restaurant in Glasgow and painting scenery for the Glasgow Pavilion and Citizens Theatre in the 1960s, he gained widespread acclaim for his first novel, Lanark, published in 1981.
He continued to paint and draw, though, illustrating many of his later novels and collections of short stories.
Explaining the Falls of Clyde, Gray paid tribute to the artists inspired by the Clyde Valley before him.
He said: “I tried to make this long, narrow mural combine many views of the Clyde gorge from Bonnington Lynn down to Cora Lynn and New Lanark, being well aware that these falls had been painted by many greater landscape artists, including Turner.
“This part of the river is fascinating for its geology, natural history and the social history of Scotland through its connection with William Wallace, the early Industrial Revolution, David Dale and the Scottish Co-operative movement.
“I have since enjoyed many walks with friends here, especially at the weekends when Bonnington Power Station is switched off and the Clyde Falls can be seen with the full force that astonished Wordsworth and Coleridge.”
The Riverside Bar is now receiving advice from the Business Gateway’s Lanarkshire office on how to market the mural.
Boyle declined to say how much the restoration would cost, but added that the restored piece would be priceless: “We believe the mural is an invaluable piece of Scottish art history.”