Highlands & Islands

Inverness festival to recall Scots artist George Wyllie

George Wyllie on Gruinard Image copyright Murray Grigor
Image caption George Wyllie on Gruinard Island in the Highlands

The life of the late Scots artist George Wyllie is to be celebrated at Inverness' new book festival.

Glasgow-born Wyllie, who died in 2012 at the age of 90, gained international acclaim for his works Straw Locomotive and Paper Boat.

He also created art for sites in Aberdeenshire and Rannoch Moor.

His daughter Louise Wyllie, who lives in the Highlands, and arts journalist Jan Patience will discuss their book on Wyllie at NessBookFest.

The biography, Arrivals and Sailings: The Making of George Wyllie, will be discussed by its joint authors at an event in Inverness Library on Friday.

Image copyright George Wyllie Foundation
Image caption Wyllie's art work, from left, on Rannoch Moor, sculpture Robin in a Cage, and Cosmic Reach at The Lecht

Born in Shettleston, Wyllie went on to have a close connection to the Scottish Highlands.

During World War Two, his early wartime service involved being part of a squad of engineers who set up radio location centres, many of them in the Highlands, for the RAF to track bombers flying into Britain.

In later life, the artist was a frequent visitor to Boat of Garten, near Inverness, where his daughter Louise has lived for about 15 years.

Wyllie's sculptures have also been installed in the Highlands, including a spire with a bottle of whisky buried underneath on the small island of Gruinard.

The 1990 piece of art marked the Ministry of Defence's declaration that Gruinard was officially anthrax-free. The island was contaminated with anthrax spores in 1942 as an experiment in germ warfare.

Inverness-born filmmaker Murray Grigor recorded the installation of the piece on Gruinard for his award-winning Channel 4 documentary on Wyllie, The Why?s Man.

Image copyright Sam Maynard
Image caption Wyllie, with an arm around his wife Daphne, and a documentary crew on their way to Gruinard

One of Wyllie's last major works, Cosmic Reach, was installed at The Lecht Ski Centre, in Aberdeenshire, to celebrate the Highland Year of Culture in 2007.

Wyllie's best-known art emerged in the late 1980s.

In 1987, he attracted international attention with his Straw Locomotive, which hung from the Finnieston crane in Glasgow before being burned in nearby Springburn in a Viking-style funeral.

Two years later, his Paper Boat was seen by millions as it sailed around the world from Glasgow to New York and back to Scotland. It made it onto the front page of the Wall Street Journal, when it berthed at the World Financial Centre in New York in 1990.

In the 1980s, he also built a sculpture on Rannoch Moor as a tribute to his friend and mentor, the influential German conceptual artist, Joseph Beuys, after he died.

Robins were a recurring theme of Wyllie's work and he often said he would return to life as one of the little birds. Co-author Patience said she saw many of the birds while she was working on the biography.

Image copyright Sweet P Photography/The Write Angle
Image caption Louise Wyllie and Jan Patience co-wrote the biography

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