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 Scottie (Robert) Wilson  (1888/89 - 1972)

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Lived/Active: Ontario / United Kingdom/Canada      Known for: outsider, visionary art

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Scottie Wilson
An example of work by Scottie (Robert) Wilson
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Galerie St. Etienne:
One of three sons of Lithuanian immigrants, Scottie Wilson (born Louis Freeman), grew up in Glasgow and learned survival skills early in life.  He left school at age eight and helped support his impoverished family by selling anything from newspapers to patent medicines on the streets.  In 1906 he enlisted with the Scottish Rifles and was posted in India and South Africa.

During World War I he fought on the Western Front, and at the end of the war immigrated to Toronto, Canada, where he owned and operated a secondhand shop.  At some point in the 1920’s or 1930’s, he began doodling with one of the fountain pens that he collected for their gold nibs.

From that moment on, he created fanciful drawings embodying a personal code of morality wherein characters called “evils” and “greedies” are juxtaposed with naturalistic symbols of goodness and truth.  The first dealer to encounter Wilson’s work was a Canadian, Douglas Duncan.

While the artist did not want to part with his drawings, he found the idea of an artistic career preferable to shopkeeping.  He returned to London in 1945 and exhibited drawings for modest fees.  Though he was mistrustful of dealers, he was persuaded to exhibit his work in London galleries, and was included in the “Surrealist Diversity” exhibition at the Arcade Gallery in 1945.

Though he always complained of poverty, Wilson was discovered at the time of his death to have secreted a suitcase full of money under his bed and large sums in various bank accounts.

Biography from The Anthony Petullo Collection Of Self-Taught And Outsider Art:
Scottie Wilson was born in 1888 in London’s East End. While still young, his family relocated to Glasgow, Scotland, and at the age of eighteen, Wilson joined the Scottish Rifles, serving in South Africa and India. A completely self-taught artist, it is unclear exactly when he began to draw, but believed to have been sometime in the mid-1930s.

He had settled in Toronto, Canada and one day, began to draw on a cardboard tabletop, covering it with designs and images, and from this beginning his work did not cease. His inventive art was recognized by dealer Douglas Duncan who organized exhibitions for him, but this was ended by Wilson’s abrupt return to England in June, 1945. In October of that year, he was included in the “Surrealist Diversity” exhibition at the Arcade Gallery in London, organized by E.L.T. Mesens. Other artists in this show were twentieth-century luminaries such as Picasso, DeChirico, Klee, Miró and others.

In spite of his association with the artistic community and galleries of London, Wilson remained staunchly individualistic in terms of his artistic vision. He was not interested in trends or exploring traditional artistic techniques, but in his oeuvre changes can be seen in terms of stylistic periods and developments. His early pictures were often populated by mysterious and sinister faces he termed “greedies” and “evils”, while around mid-century his work developed a more decorative element with motifs of swans, bird, flowers and castles.

In his later works, he incorporated butterflies and broader usages of color, and there is some departure from the obsessively dense hatching technique that characterized his earlier pieces. In the 1960s, Wilson was commissioned by Royal Worcester to design a dinnerware set, and his piece, “Bird Song”, was chosen as a design for the 1970 UNICEF Christmas card.

Wilson died in London on March 26, 1972 of cancer.

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