Keeping the Balance – George Wyllie

Summerhall, Edinburgh, November 2014 – February 2015
Curator

During his life, George Wyllie  (1921 – 2012, Scotland) saw profound changes in life, politics and society. He served in the Royal Navy during World War II, witnessed the devastation of the atomic bomb, and saw the fall of the Iron Curtain. 

As the self-proclaimed “best bogie-builder in Cardonald”, Wyllie trained as an engineer before joining the Royal Navy and then working for Customs and Excise – a job which involved a lot of questioning. At the age of 58 he entered into a four-decade long late-flowering career as an artist.

It is then understandable that at the centre of Wyllie’s work is the question mark, a motif that first emerged in his earliest exhibitions, constantly questioning politics and exploring philosophies in his art, writing, performance and film work. Wyllie liberally applied a question mark to all manner of subjects, such as the management of global economy, our relationship with the planet and the value of art to society.

By the late 1980s Wyllie had established himself as an artist of international significance. In 1987 he attracted attention with his Straw Locomotive, a 78ft locomotive constructed from steel, straw and chicken wire, which hung from the Finnieston crane in Glasgow before being burned in nearby Springburn in a Viking style funeral.

Two years later, his 80ft Paper Boat, a memorial to the city’s shipbuilding industry, sailed the Clyde, was seen by millions as it traveled around the world from Glasgow to New York and back to Scotland.

It was at this time Wyllie also represented Scotland as part Glasgow-Berlin 88 with two major commissions, the Berlin Burd and The Glasgow-Berlin Spire, each work, in its own way, questioned the absurdity of a city divided by a wall.

From the mid 1980s the concept of equilibrium begins to weave its way through all Wyllie’s work. The artist’s call for a more harmonious relationship between people and the planet is serenely voiced through his ‘Spires’ and related installations.

This exhibition focuses on artworks by George Wyllie and others created during the lead up to, and in response to, the fall of the Berlin Wall. It also considers works by Wyllie that, through questioning, aim to achieve balance by giving a “nudge towards establishing equilibrium”.  

Works on display are from the collections of: 
George Wyllie Foundation 
Wyllie Family

With thanks to:
The Wyllie Family
Andy McAvoy
Daria Zapala
Murray Robertson
Jan Patience
Mark Osborne
Julia Bauer
Mary Reid
Glasgow Print Studio
Summerhall visual arts team


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