ALASDAIR Gray is not nostalgic – even if his latest exhibition includes a portrait of the octogenarian artist as a young man.

Opening at the Open Eye Gallery in Edinburgh today, the collection features work spanning several decades, with many of the pieces only recently completed by the addition of colour.

This includes portraits of his first wife Inge Sorensen and friend and neighbour May Hooper.

It also takes audiences back to the beginnings of his artistic career thanks to a striking self-portrait completed as part of a classroom assignment when he was around 15 years old.

The piece, on aged paper, shows Gray with half of his face in shadow and points towards the distinctive style he is now known for. Its age shows on the paper it was created on, which has yellowed far more than any other now hanging in the city centre space.

But Gray, who last year staged a solo show in London for the first time, says he is “not sure” if he approves of the early work ending up in a buyer’s hands, admitting: “I’m not sure if it’s any good.”

The piece is among those selected for show by curator Kevin Brown from Gray’s extensive collection of portraits, life studies and figure sketches. Many were inked decades ago, but have had colour – often soft blues, pinks and peaches – added within recent months.

The completion of these works comes as Gray continues to recover from a devastating fall on the doorstep of his Glasgow home that left him wishing for death at his lowest point due to intense pain.

The incident, which happened in June 2015, resulted in damage to lower vertebrae.

He spent six months in intensive care and is still undergoing physiotherapy in a bid to recover the use of his legs. Gray is optimistic about this, and laughs off suggestions that the images on show at the capital gallery make him dream of days past. “To me,” he said, “they are in the present”.

“Memory, for that matter art, is a bit of a time machine. Therefore I don’t thinks of them as being relics from the olden days.”

However, the polymath – Gray is also a celebrated novelist, playwright, muralist, poet and essayist – is amused by the idea of artists looking back to their younger days and imagining “I had genius then”. When asked if he himself had genius, he says it was “talent”.

However, Brown describes Gray as a “cultural supernova” who is only now beginning to get the credit he deserves from the art world. This, he says, is partly because Gray has spent his career in Glasgow, the city where he was raised.

Much of his work, including landmark novel Lanark, which has never been out of print and is now available in 19 languages following recent translations into Italian and Dutch, directly concerns the city. Some, such as his murals at Hillhead subway station and in nearby venues Oran Mor and the Ubiquitous Chip, are part of its fabric.

Despite this close connection, Brown believes Gray’s output has international significance. As such, he expects the Edinburgh show to garner significant interest. “He is a European cultural supernova but he hasn’t been recognised as such,” Brown tells The National. “By taking his work to London, it’s been given a big boost.

“London is one of the art capitals of the world, New York is another. Alasdair has a global following as a writer and many of his fans came out of curiosity because ‘this great writer does what?’ They didn’t understand that he was also an artist. One man went down, based on something from the London Review of Books, and paid £12,000 for a painting and another £3000 for a sketch.

“We sold around £70,000 worth of art. We set his prices higher than he dared and we achieved record prices.”

Gray, who found early inspiration in the illustrated books of his childhood, describes creative work as a driving force that gives him purpose. When he stops producing, he says, he feels that he has “wasted” his time.

As for the process of colouring pieces for the Open Eye Gallery show, he says he now feels he is “getting it right”.

“I’ve become rather more careful in my management of colour,” he tells The National.

“My colour when I was younger, I had difficulty with. I liked using very bright colour against dark outline so that it was almost like stained glass. I soon realised that where subject matter is concerned, if I’m trying to show a shared reality, I can’t be working in bright Disney-esque colours all the time.

“I was immensely delighted by the early Disney films Snow White and Dumbo and Pinocchio, which I saw before I was 10. I regretted that the world I lived in wasn’t as bright as all those.

“Sometimes in some of my pictures I would use the colours just about as bright, but I soon realised I had to subdue them in order to bring them into some kind of harmony.”

Alasdair Gray: Selected Work: 1962 - 2018, is open now and runs until April 23. The gallery expects most works, if not all, to sell.