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Public invited to share stories on influential Scottish artist

By Gavin Musgrove

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The late acclaimed Scottish artist George Wyllie who left a legacy of work across Scotland.
The late acclaimed Scottish artist George Wyllie who left a legacy of work across Scotland.

The family of renowned Scottish artist and writer George Wyllie is inviting members of the public to share their stories about his work as they prepared to mark the centenary of his birth in 2021.

The memories will help to create a new online map detailing the artist's public – and not so public – sculptures.

The Mapping Memories project went live on Thursday (December 31) which would have been George Wyllie's 99th birthday.

The Glasgow-born artist died at the age of 90 in 2012.

In addition to tracking art works which exist in the public domain and in public collections, the project aims to include the locations and details of the artist’s major temporary installations such as the Straw Locomotive (1987) and the Paper Boat (1989) which now exist only in memory and archive material.

Throughout the year leading up to Wyllie’s 100th birthday on Hogmanay 2021, the George Wyllie Estate will welcome public contributions to the project and will publish previously unseen material from the artist’s own archive.

The Wee Hauf Puffer, installation, Islay Festival, Islay, 2000.
The Wee Hauf Puffer, installation, Islay Festival, Islay, 2000.

Contributors are being invited to add stories about Wyllie work on www.georgewyllie.com .

Anyone can easily add audio or video recordings, text, photos and film as well as the all-important geographical location of the work they are posting about.

A second blog on the website called Just For Fun asks people to share the many ways in which George Wyllie inspired them to get creative.

Announcing the digital launch of the trail, the artist's elder daughter, Louise Wyllie, who lives in Boat of Garten, said it would form a permanent marker of her father's ‘out-and-about’ approach to art which took him across the UK and beyond.

She said: "My father used to say that his definition of public art was art the public couldn't avoid and there are hundreds of sculptures, installations and artworks out there; some of which we know about like the Running Clock in Glasgow, and others which were temporary such as his most famous artworks the Straw Locomotive and the Paper Boat.

“The Paper Boat started its voyage in Glasgow in 1989 and ended up ’sailing' via Ayr, Dumfries, London and Antwerp and on to New York in 1990. It even made it onto the front cover of the Wall Street Journal under the headline: 'Laugh You May, but Remember It’s Floating and the Titanic Isn’t’.

“There are works of my father’s out there – in pubs, houses and gardens – that we don’t know a lot about and it’s important to us that we find out more about them.

“We’d like to collate as much information as possible to create the art trail map.

"The project will act as a window into the past, allowing people to discover my dad’s temporary installations, which were often his most ambitious and influential works.

"So we're asking the public; communities, artists, curators, critics, welders, shipbuilders, school pupils…. anyone who worked with my father, who remember his temporary installations, or know the whereabouts of public sculpture, to contribute to this project by sharing their stories on our new digital platforms.

"It's very easy to do and all the contributions will make up an art trail with locations and details of works which will be freely available online allowing more people to discover and enjoy my father's playfully serious approach to making and creating.

"I've already started posting to the Just For Fun page as people are always sending me pictures of things like tattoos, jewellery or nail designs inspired by his work."

Holyrood/Hollywood installation, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 1986.
Holyrood/Hollywood installation, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 1986.

Wyllie, who was self-trained, called himself a 'scul?tor' because he said he was not sure if he was an actual sculptor.

After embarking on a career as an artist at the age of 52, he made the question mark his calling card during a prolific and influential late-flowering career.

Earlier this year, in order to get this project off the ground, the George Wyllie Estate successfully raised £4270 as part of a crowdfunding campaign in association with Creative Scotland.

Wyllie was born in Shettleston, Glasgow, on 31 December 1921 and worked as a Customs and Excise officer based in Northern Ireland and Greenock until 1979.

He lived in the Inverclyde town of Gourock for the last 50 years of his life.

Louise worked with her father to create one of his last major works, Cosmic Reach, at The Lecht Ski Centre, to celebrate the Highland Year of Culture in 2007.

George Wyllie’s Berlin Burd, Berlin Wall at Reinickendorf, 1988 which is still there. All photos ©George Wyllie Estate
George Wyllie’s Berlin Burd, Berlin Wall at Reinickendorf, 1988 which is still there. All photos ©George Wyllie Estate

Public artworks by Wyllie are located all over Scotland at sites also including Caithness, Campbeltown, Lewis, Aberdeen, Perth, Oban, Motherwell, Stirling, Kilmarnock, Greenock, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Outside Scotland, there are public artworks by Wyllie at sites in Northern Ireland, Barrow in Furness, Manchester, Berlin, Sri Lanka and in the United States.

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