Issue 231
May/June 2024

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Jun 17, 2024

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Why? oh, Wyllieum? asks Demarco

THE QUESTION MARK obviously symbolises the art of George Wyllie. It certainly dominated my thoughts as I journeyed home to Edinburgh from Greenock's remarkable art museum inspired by the life and art of George Wyllie with the memorable name of Wyllieum.

It possesses distinct nautical features as it also serves as the terminal of cruise ships delivering its passengers to the River Clyde and the City of Glasgow. This is the Clydeside world that George Wyllie knew well as a Customs officer as well as in his life as an artist with the self-imposed task of questioning the art of sculpture in the form of his three-legged wooden spiral supporting a quartz stone defining the equilibrium on our beleaguered planet moving at unimaginable speed through the Cosmos.

The opening exhibition at The Wyllieum Museum is dominated by the spiral forms, not only as sculptures but also as pen and ink drawings, pencil sketches and note books with illustrations and annotations.

The first big question I have to ask it why the transfixing reality of such a sculptural manifestation does not relate the undoubted masterpiece in the form of the one and only sculptural memorial to Joseph Beuys in the British Isles? This was made by George Wyllie and he chose to site it in the wilderness of Rannoch Moor in celebration of the Beuysian sculptural masterpiece entitled 'Celtic Kinloch Rannoch: the Scottish Symphony.'

I must ask why, years later in August 1995, did Geroge Wyllie collaborate with Henning Christiansen, the Danish equivalent as an avant-garde composer to the American genius John Cage? This was a perfect example of sculptural performance art. It took place close to George Wyllie's Beuys Memorial on Rannoch Moor, in collaboration with Ursula Reuter, the German wife of Henning Christiansen. This was aptly entitled '100 Hammer Blows Against Warmongers'.

The hammer used to strike these blows was the proud possession of George Wyllie. And, again, I ask the question: why did this important exhibition make no mention of George Wyllie's masterpiece entitled 'Burns, Beuys and Beyond'?

It was part of a conference and a sculptural installation at Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum as a major contribution to the historic year when Glasgow was elected as the first city to receive the accolade of European Capital of Culture.

George Wyllie flew with me to the airport of Duesseldorf with the express purpose of meeting Joseph Beuys in his home and studio and afterwards dine with him and his wife Eva and their son Wenzel and daughter Jessyka.

I knew, in my friendship with George Wyllie, that he was unique, the one British artist whose art could be compared to that of Joseph Beuys. I must also ask the question – Why was there scant mention of the long and arduous exploration of the entire landscape of Ireland, ignoring the frontier between Ulster and the Irish Republic, made by George Wyllie and his life-long friend and collaborator, Kenny Munro?

It was inspired by the fact that the treeline covering both Ulster and the Irish Republic is identically the same manifestation of Mother Nature? Perhaps the most important question which dominates my thoughts on the Wyllieum's inaugural exhibition is simply why was there no reference to the fact that, in 1981 George Wyllie, together with his friend and fellow artist Dawson Murray, was entrusted by Joseph Beuys to install the Beuysian masterpiece 'A New Beginning is in the Offing' in the entrance to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens during the Edinburgh International Festival?

It was the most eye-catching art work in the exhibition directed by Johannes Cladders of his art collection acquired over his long directorship of the Moenchengladbach museum. It should be noted that George Wyllie and Dawson Murray added their initials to the reverse of this sculptural masterpiece which once served as the weatherbeaten gigantic doorway leading to the interior of the Demarco Gallery's Poorhouse, the Edinburgh version of London's infamous Bedlam ? the ideal place for both Joseph Beuys and George Wyllie to focus their art upon the most pressing need to combat the threat of global warming.

A Day Down A Gold Mine was devised by George Wyllie together with his friend, the actor Bill Paterson. It was more an example of performance art than a piece of theatre. I consider it as one of the key contributions made to the Edinburgh Festival' s entire history.

George Wyllie contributed a regular column in ArtWork. I cherish my copy of this publication. It is entitled 'My Words George Wyllie's Essays for ArtWork'. I must quote from the essay entitled Voyaging Beyond the Bath-tub from June/July 1995.

The intrepid voyager Richard Demarco recently made a landfall after a voyage beyond the bathtub. He had set sail over twenty years ago, setting his happy compass to follow the Celtic Spiral and, by circumnavigating the long way round by way of Meikle Seggie, he left behind the plastic ducks and the synthetic foam of convention. "But, muttered voices within the bath .. 'it can' t be art'".

As a consequence of seeming too much like a package holiday, Demarco' s pilgrim ship was torpedoed by a Scottish Arts Council who, until his decision to go afloat, had always ensured that his vessel was well found. He never quite got over being sunk by his own side, but that's what can happen if you venture beyond the tub.

That essay has inspired me ever since. Of course, it is only a rumour that George Wyllie is no longer alive. He is very much alive on the bank of his beloved River Clyde in Richard Murphy's eye-catching Wyllieum Museum. Sadly, there is no evidence of a much-needed lecture theatre and library, because surely the Wyllieum raison d'ê tre is as a unique academic resource linked to the world of education on primary, secondary and tertiary levels.

Foe the future, I must ask if the programme of the Wyllieum will focus on the world of George Wyllie's many friends who are still alive.

My final question – Is the Wyllieum to be identified with the future of mass tourism in Scotland or the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, and is it planning to celebrate the lives of all those who must be identified as George Wyllie's friends who, although dead cannot be forgotten, such as Dawson Murray, Barbara Grigor, Phillip Bruno, Chris Carrell, George and Cordelia Oliver and, of course, George's beloved wife and soul mate, Daphne Wyllie?

I consider I have a moral responsibility to celebrate the friendship between George Wyllie and Joseph Beuys in the programme I am devising entitled: The Demarco Art Foundation's Alternative to the 2024 Edinburgh Festival, in the form of an Edinburgh Arts expedition to Rannoch Moor, to the site of George Wyllie's memorial and his collaboration with Henning Christiansen and his wife Ursula Reuter.


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