Scottish artist George Wyllie dies aged 90

 

George Wyllie was one of Scotland's most celebrated artists

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Glasgow-born sculptor George Wyllie has died at the age of 90 following a short illness.

He was best known for his giant public works including The Paper Boat and The Straw Locomotive.

The Paper Boat sailed along the Clyde on a journey to New York via Liverpool and London.

In 1987, Wyllie dangled The Straw Locomotive - a full-sized straw steam engine - from the Finnieston crane in Glasgow.

The artwork was eventually set alight in what the artist described as a Viking-style funeral to symbolise Glasgow's industrial decline.

He was made an MBE in 2005 for services to the arts.

Analysis

Many artists prefer to let their art do the talking - but not George Wyllie.

He loved to talk - about his work, about what people thought of the work, about everything and anything really.

He liked to describe himself as a scul?tor - the question mark, he suggested, was too important to leave to the end - and most of his work questioned the world, and art itself.

He was fun - and funny.

Musical as well as artistic, you were often as not treated to a song as well as a work of art.

George Wyllie's trademark was the question mark, his works intended to provoke thought and discussion rather than provide answers.

He described himself as a "scul?tor" because he said the punctuation was too important to be left to the end.

His death comes in a year when his artistic legacy is being celebrated through The Whysman Festival and an archive exhibition, A Life Less Ordinary.

"I am so glad now that he saw the start of what is a year of celebration," said his daughter, Louise Wyllie.

"He really did live a life less ordinary. There was no-one else like him and I suspect there never will be."

Jan Patience, chair of the Friends of George Wyllie group, described him as "a remarkable artist".

"He reached out beyond the confines of the art gallery scene and connected with real people all over the world through his thought-provoking art.

"He had the knack of making you ask questions, of not accepting the status quo. His mind was constantly enquiring and his art was constantly pushing out barriers. That is his legacy."

'Extraordinary artist'

First Minister Alex Salmond said he was "very sad indeed" to hear of Mr Wyllie's death.

"He was an extraordinary artist whose work touched the lives of generations of Scots and will be familiar to many generations to come," he said.

"His Paper Boat and Straw Locomotive were the best known of hundreds of social sculptures that took art out of the gallery and placed it at the heart of communities.

"His art always raised a smile but usually had a profound underlying message about the importance of skills, community and meaningful work."

The first minister added: "My thoughts are with his family and friends, especially his daughters Louise and Elaine.

"I hope they take some comfort from knowing how much Scotland feels his loss and how fondly he will be remembered."

George Ralston Wyllie was born in Shettleston in Glasgow's east end on Hogmanay 1921.

As a young engineer with the Royal Navy, he walked the streets of Hiroshima two months after it was bombed, an experience which he said shaped his philosophy on life.

After the war he worked as a customs and excise officer, settling in Gourock, Inverclyde. He then embarked on a late career as an artist, which lasted four decades.

 

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