Gray's School of Art

Gray's School of Art is an integral part of the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen that is one of the oldest established fine art institutions in Scotland. One of Scotland's four art schools, Gray's is located in the Garthdee grounds of the University.


Gray's was founded in 1885 as Gray's School of Science and Art, in recognition of the generosity of its founding father, John Gray (1811–1891). A local businessman and philanthropist, Gray had risen from humble beginnings as a carpenter to become partner in McKinnon & Co., a firm of engineers and iron founders in Aberdeen. In 1859 he was appointed director of the Aberdeen Mechanics Institution, a forerunner of Robert Gordon University.

In the early 1880s, John Gray offered to finance and build a new school of science and art in Aberdeen, on the condition that the governors named it Gray's School of Science and Art. His offer stemmed partly from the difficulties he himself had experienced obtaining adequate training. The school opened in 1885 with 96 students enrolled for the day classes and 322 for the evening classes. The original building, sited at Schoolhill, gave architectural coherence to the neighbouring Aberdeen Art Gallery, as was Gray's wish.

Garthdee Campus

In the early 1950s, Thomas Scott Sutherland (1899–1963), an Aberdeen architect who had attended the School of Architecture at Robert Gordon's Technical College, gifted his Victorian mansion Garthdee House and its surrounding estate on the southern outskirts of Aberdeen, to the School of Architecture, along with a substantial endowment. The relocated school opened at Garthdee in 1956 as the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture.

Following on from this development, in 1966 Gray's School of Art was relocated to a function-built Modernist building on the Garthdee Estate, which marked the beginning of the redevelopment of Garthdee by Robert Gordon's Institute of Technology. The Gray's School of Art building has three floors and is designed in a U-plan with a large front facade and two wings.

The ground floor on the main facade houses the printmaking studios and workshops as well as administrative offices, a computer lab, photocopiers and textile-printing workshops. The East Wing houses a photographic studio, the school art shop, refectory and the large First Year Studio Hall. The West Wing houses ceramics, jewellery and 3D design workshops as well as life model changing rooms and two large open-plan sculpture studios. Both wings have only one floor, although underneath the sculpture and first year studios, which are built into the hill on which the school stands, there are two general woodwork and metalwork workshops.

The first floor houses second and third year painting studios, visual communication studios, textiles studios, life drawing rooms, the head of school's office in the east wing and the printmaking staff room in the west. The second floor until recently exclusively housed the fourth year painting studios. However, in the last two years two rooms have been reallocated to the new photography and electronic media (PEM) course.

In the early 1990s, "temporary" cabins were put in place to house the growing number of students. These are still in use, housing 3D design studios, design for industry studios, critical and contextual studies, and the MFA programme studios.


As part of Robert Gordon University's development of the Garthdee Campus, which aims to move all of the University's facilities to Garthdee by 2015, Gray's School of Art is earmarked for refurbishment and expansion. This will include both the Art School and the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture and the Built Environment being co-located on the present Gray's site, with additional floors being built on the East and West Wings at Gray's.

Areas of study

Gray's teaches a wide range of fine art and design subjects. It employs a general first year where students get a taster of each subject area before choosing which area they want to specialise in from second to fourth (honours) year.

Design & Craft Programme

  • 3D Design
  • Textile and Surface Design
  • Fashion Design
  • Visual Communication

Fine Art Programme

  • Painting
  • Photography and Electronic Media (PEM)
  • Printmaking (the only stand-alone printmaking course out of the four Scottish Art Schools)
  • Sculpture

Design for Industry Programme

  • Design for Digital Media
  • Graphic Design
  • Product Design

Postgraduate Programme

  • Master of Fine Art (MFA)
  • Master of Design
  • Master of Research in Art & Design
Degree Show

Gray's holds an annual Degree Show in June to publicly showcase the work of the students. The opening night is a significant social event for the students, staff and the local arts community. The Degree Show always runs head to head with the Glasgow School of Art and Edinburgh College of Art Degree Shows.

Gray's community

The small size of Gray's gives rise to a strong community and social network between current students and alumni, Gray's being a strong force in the Aberdeen visual arts scene. The general first year allows students of each year to get to know each other and maintain friendships across disciplines as they move through the school.

Notable alumni
  • Josephine Broekhuizen (born 1956), artist
  • Robert Brough (1872–1905), painter
  • Joe Edwards (1933–2000), painter of rural life
  • Edith Hughes (1888–1971), Britain's first practising woman architect
  • Callum Innes (born 1962), Turner Prize-nominated painter
  • Donnie Munro (born 1953), musician