THEY are key works in the life of one of Scotland's most celebrated polymaths; paintings which will form cornerstones of a visual autobiography. Or at least they would do if he knew where to find them.

Alasdair Gray has no idea of the whereabouts of many of his best paintings. ''Some have passed into unknown hands because of the original owners' deaths, some bought by folk whose names I have forgotten, some were lost by accident or my own carelessness, " he told the Sunday Herald yesterday.

He has now launched an appeal to find the paintings, which he needs to retrace his artistic past for A Life In Pictures, his autobiography to be published by Canongate in the autumn of 2006.

Gray left one painting on a luggage rack and several went missing from Glasgow's McLellan Gallery. "Whenever I exhibited work in the gallery, I did a very foolish thing, '' he confessed. ''We were told to come in and collect the works by a certain date. I was very slow about picking my work up, but I was very friendly with the janitor, and he would always put them in a store at the back.

"And then one day, I went into pick up at least five or six works and my friend the janitor was no longer there; he had retired. He was an honest man, so he wouldn't have taken the pictures; but if you leave things in a store and then come back three or four months later, well, you find that nobody knows where they are." Another painting, which he describes as "his best nude", was stolen after a party in his west end flat.

Gray was born in Glasgow in 1934 and still lives in the city, He became a jack of several artistic trades because "[I was] unable to make a living by one.

Some of my books have been noticed outside Scotland but not many of my paintings; so I was pleased when Canongate agreed to publish a book about them, if I also wrote the text."

A graduate of Glasgow School of Art, Gray was propelled into the international arena with the publication of his 1981 novel Lanark.

He said: "Since the 1980s, my books, both written and illustrative, have received critical attention, but no dealers have approached me offering to sell my art work. When a 70year-old artist writes the first book ever published about his paintings, he proves that important folk who run art markets don't care for them."

A Life In Pictures has been planned for six years and Jamie Byng of Canongate, hopes it will put Gray, the visual artist, back in the frame.

Byng said: "It seemed that if one was going to publish Alasdair's autobiography, then it shouldn't just be a celebration of him as a writer, but also as a visual artist.

Matching and marrying those two things is the right thing to be done." He added: "Alasdair is an extraordinary artist in all respects. There are similarities between him and William Blake, these polymaths who are widely read and interested in many different aspects of what it is to be human and expressing them in more ways than one.

Blake also created these beautiful editions that combined his art with his writing."

Canongate is also working with artist and writer John Byrne, on a similar project under the working title, John Byrne's Scrapbook, to be published in 2007.

Sandy Moffat, head of painting and printmaking at Glasgow School of Art welcomed the book, agreeing that Gray's visual art has not yet been fully acknowledged.

"There's always this idea in Scotland that you can't be good at more than one thing, and I think that's been one of the things that has prevented that equal recognition [for Gray's painting and writing].

"He either has to be a painter or has to be a writer.

And I think, once he broke through with Lanark, everyone said 'that's it, he's just this great writer who does some drawings on the side', so to speak.

"That's the way art is perceived in Scotland, whereas in other countries you could be a dozen things, and appreciated for every single thing. It's always been a particularly Scottish problem."

Interest in Alasdair Gray's art is likely to intensify with the announcement on Friday that his lifelong assistant Rodge Glass is working on a biography of him, to be published by Bloomsbury in 2008.

If you have any idea as to the whereabouts of any of Gray's paintings, send information care of: Canongate Books, 14 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1TE, or e-mail Gray's secretary rodgeglass@hotmail. com.

Gray will arrange for the works to be photographed for the book at no inconvenience to the owner, and if used, the owner's help will be acknowledged.

Paintings by Alasdair Gray and Sandy Moffat are currently on show in the Campbell Soup Exhibition at the Glasgow School of Art until May 7


1 In the early 1960s Reverend Neville Davidson, minister of Glasgow Cathedral, commissioned an oil painting of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Davidson and his wife are now both dead. One of their heirs may have the painting.

2 In the 1960s, Gray painted Night Cinema on the plywood back of a shallow wooden tray he found at the back of a bakery. Gray often used such materials when he couldn't afford canvas. Roughly 18in x 30in, it showed a section of St George's Road seen late at night from the high back window of his Hill Street studio. In the foreground was the dark roof of the West End Ballroom, behind is the dark facade of a tenement. The bright central spot is the entrance to what was once the Forth Cinema, later the Indian Dream Cinema, and is now the Q Club.

3 Gray's most supportive patron was Andrew Sykes, first professor of sociology at Strathclyde University. He died in 1991, leaving some of Gray's paintings to Strathclyde's Collins Gallery and others to his friends, Greta and David Hodgkins of Nenagh, in Ireland. Gray is looking for three pictures - two were large black pen drawings on white paper of women: Mrs Nanni, a seminude wearing black stockings, and Marion Ogg, sprawled at length, reading, on a blue patterned rug.

Gray is very anxious to track down a portrait drawing of Sykes seated in profile with his feet resting on his office desk, with what Gray describes as "a smile of calm superiority, somehow suggesting both a punchdrunk old boxer and a Roman imperial bust".

4. A gouache on hardboard showing Jessie Moon posing in the old Annexe studio of Glasgow School Of Art c1953, left on a luggage rack on a train to Edinburgh in 1981.

5. A gouache of a modern crucifixion from the same period lost in the post.

6. An oil on wood portrait of blind Mr Swan, father of his best school friend, in the kitchen of his tenement behind Duke St hospital.