Born in 1934, Alasdair Gray has become quite the ubiquitous Scottish cultural figure, with his novel Lanark (which he illustrated himself, hence the recurring William Blake comparisons) on the literature syllabus in Scottish universities and various murals in Glasgow – most famously the ceiling of the Oran Mor.
For this photograph, Gray has clearly given his pose a lot of thought, to the point of sketching a miniature portrait of himself wearing the exact same checked shirt. The result is surprisingly humorous, the serious expression on the artist’s face(s) contrasting with the surprise of finding oneself in front of two Alasdair Grays and having to take a second (or third) look to ensure this isn’t some sort of optical illusion.
This serious face floating above the artist’s shoulder can also be taken as a hint to the self-criticism experienced by any artist during the creative process – the feeling another you is looking over your shoulder at the canvas or sheet of paper, harshly commenting on the quality of what’s just been produced – and the subsequent difficulty of having to trust oneself with a new work.
But it is also another fine example of Gray’s frequently used “double perspective”. Using two different points of perspective for one subject is what gives his cityscapes their peculiar and distinctive style. In this case, the spectator becomes the subject, scrutinised at by two Alasdair Grays as if they were his model.