George Wyllie: A Life Less Ordinary
- Neil Cooper
- 28 March 2012
Valuable retrospective of the Whysman's work
Environmental art may be all the rage these days, but, as with the soon to be mothballed Collins Gallery, George Wyllie was way ahead of the curve. While best known for huge public spectacles The Straw Locomotive and The Paper Boat, as well as a fully-fledged stage show with actor Bill Paterson, A Day Down a Goldmine, this huge archive of small works and papers, posters and other ephemera taps into the ever enquiring mind of the now 90-year-old polymath, who was reimagining Glasgow long before the cultural tsars moved in to take the credit.
Having first exhibited his self-semanticised Scul?tors at the Collins in 1976, with other shows following in 1981 and 2005, it’s fitting that the venue’s last ever show should be the launchpad for the inaugural event of the Glasgow-wide Whysman Festival to celebrate Wyllie’s nutty professor-like take on the world.
Perennially captured in smiling photographs sporting overalls and bunnet, Wyllie may appear somewhere between Oor Wullie, Tom Weir and Ivor Cutler, but file him as a ukulele-playing novelty act at your peril. In his use of outdoor spaces, a (post) industrial tool-kit and playfully serious critique of capitalism in A Day Down a Goldmine, captured on film by Murray Grigor, Wyllie is an equal to and as deeply serious as Joseph Beuys, with whom he worked, Ian Hamilton Finlay, and indeed Angus Farquhar’s NVA organisation, who picked up his mantle.
The great bum steers that have allowed Strathclyde University pen pushers to close down the Collins and the Scottish Government to introduce Public Entertainment Licence legislation that would effectively outlaw Wyllie’s work should be noted. This lovingly gathered and utterly humane collection is a serious word to the Whys.
Collins Gallery, Glasgow, until Sat 21 Apr.