Tuesday, 5 July 2011

George Wyllie Archive Exhibition Announced for Spring 2012

'The Great George' at home in Gourock

This is an unedited version of a news story by Jan Patience in today's Herald newspaper

AN exhibition of archive material donated to Strathclyde University’s Collins Gallery by groundbreaking Scots sculptor, George Wyllie, is to go on show next April in what could be the gallery’s last ever exhibition.

Wyllie, who turns 90 on December 31 this year, has a long association with the gallery, which has been in existence since 1973. His first major exhibition was held there in 1976 and he was given an honorary doctorate by the University in 1990.

The Collins was earmarked for closure earlier this year by the University following a series of cultural cuts, which has seen its Ramshorn Theatre close, its director of music, Alan Tavener, being made redundant, and the axe falling on courses in applied music, community education, geography and sociology.

A spokesman for the University confirmed last night that it was currently ‘exploring the potential of establishing the gallery as an independent entity supported by a range of income streams.’ 

Meanwhile, key staff at the gallery, including Laura Hamilton, who has been its curator since 1988, plus four part-time staff, have been told they will lose their jobs when the George Wyllie exhibition closes on May 28.

The spokesman added: “Funding for the Collins Gallery comes to an end in May 2012. The University is actively looking at how the Collins Gallery might be sustained beyond then.”

Glasgow-born Wyllie, who has lived in Inverclyde since the 1960s, is most famous for his Straw Locomotive and Paper Boat, both of which had their origins in the demise of Glasgow’s industrial might.

When it was berthed beneath the World Financial Center in New York in 1990, The Paper Boat created such a stir that it made the front page of the New York Times.

This exhibition will mark the start of a year of celebrations centred around the artist’s 90th birthday year. Comprising of original material drawn from the archive donated by Gourock-based Wyllie to the university, this unique collection includes letters, photographs, reviews and personal jottings about his well-known and lesser known projects.

Wyllie’s family also plan to lend previously unseen artefacts from his home in Gourock, such as early oil paintings by Wyllie from the 1950s and a still life by his mother, Harriet, who was a creative driving force in his early life.

Wyllie’s distinctive voice will also be heard during the course of the exhibition, which starts on April 7, 2012, in the form of extensive interviews with him carried out by the British Library in 2003/4 as part of its Artists Lives series. 

Wyllie is now in a care home in Greenock, although his house, described by his friend, the writer and filmmaker, Murray Grigor as ‘a work of art in itself’ is in constant use as a base for the family’s activities relating to his work. 

A group, The Friends of George Wyllie, has been set up by his daughter Louise to protect and promote his work. Friends include the artist’s grandaughter Jennifer, Murray Grigor, the sculptor Kenny Munro, BBC Scotland arts producer Andrew Lockyer and RIAS Secretary & Treasurer, Neil Baxter.

Collins Gallery curator, Laura Hamilton, said it was ‘fitting’ that the 39-year-old gallery would close ‘with an exhibition celebrating the work of George Wyllie’. “This was the gallery which gave him his first major exhibition and the University’s best known and best loved public artwork is undoubtedly George’s Monument to Maternity, which stands on the site of the former Rottonrow Maternity Hospital,” she explained.

Hamilton has worked with Wyllie closely over the years. The last major exhibition featuring his work, The Cosmic Voyage, was held at the Collins in 2005. 

Wyllie’s daughter, Louise, told The Herald: “It’s great we are able to launch our Big Birthday year for my father with this exhibition at the Collins, with which he has had such a long association.

“We’re excited about the prospect of some typically quirky George Wyllie happenings over the course of next year, which we’re working hard on that at the moment.”

The University of Strathclyde spokesman added: “George Wyllie is a pivotal figure in the visual arts. The University is proud to be associated with the celebrations of his enormous achievement.”
George Wyllie's Monument to Maternity on the site of the former Rottenrow Maternity Hospital in Glasgow. This was commissioned by Strathclyde University. George holds an honorary doctorate from the university

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