George Wyllie hits the small screen, plus new section: Films on TV.


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Wyllie old hand

George Wyllie, the man who insists on a question mark in his scul?tures, is the subject of a new Channel 4 documentary.

Ross Parsons, the man who insists on a joke in everything he writes, has been to see it.

George Wyllie has a refreshingly clear view of art’s place in the world. ‘Public art is that which the public can‘t ignore.‘ Certainly the work of Britain‘s boldest sculptor has never been easily avoided and on 18 July it will reach a still wider audience when Channel 4 screen The Wh .75 Man, a film tribute to the great man from Greenock. In turn. filmmakers Barbara and Murray Grigor (who are examining the links between art and politics for Channel 4) have come up with a refreshingly clear view of the scul'.’tor. as he likes

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to describe himself. Their project was three years in the making and attempts an explanation of some of Wyllie‘s striking, if not eccentric, works of recent years. Murray Grigor put his finger on the problematic popular conception of George, ‘He‘s more than just a “Captain Fish Fingers“, as the media like to portray him. He’s a serious

artist as well.‘ Which is precisely where his appeal lies. He is at heart a humorist with serious points to make.

True to Grigor‘s word the film manages to make the point successfully: that Wyllie is a bold artist determined to get across his political ideas by using striking. humorous images. Furthermore it does so with a degree of levity not normally found in the average tribute/documentary of artists and their work. Throughout the 60 minutes Wyllie appears as a peripatetic ukelele player looking, for all the world, like Benny Hill impersonating George Formby. Not that this detracts from his artwork, far from it. it‘s much easier to understand an artist like that, than one who insists on lengthy monologues devoted to the importance of his own work. There is nothing cluttered or complex about our George.

Over the past three years the Grigors have followed the course of Wyllie’s work: his Straw Locomotive (a full-scale reconstruction ofa steam loco which hung for three months from the Stobcross crane). the Paper Boat, launched on

the Clyde last year and currently bobbing up and

down in New York harbour, as well as his numerous trips around the world with his Spires. All ofwhich underline his belief that ‘art galleries are really an outdated Victorian ideal and art should be out in the open where it can be seen.’ The camera records him practising what he preaches when he joined the small band of souls who set foot on the island of Gruinard (once used for Anthrax tests) on the day the Ministry of Defence declared it safe again. There he set up one of his spires above a bottle ofwhisky.

His message, though uniquely presented, is straightforward enough, symbolised by the ubiquitous question mark. He wants to encourage people to take a step back and examine the world in a different light. What is happening to the world, in particular to that part ofit near the Clyde, and why? Wyllie, rather self-effacingly puts his attitude down to the years he spent working for Her Majesty‘s Customs and Excise department. ‘That taught me to question everything.’

The programme is unique in that it has dispensed with the services of any verbose narrator and instead relies on Wyllie’s gentle wit to guide us through the production and showing of his projects. Thus it succeeds in capturing the genuine voice of the artist on film, in itselfquite an achievement.

The Wh ?s Man (Channel 4) 18July, 9pm.

“The List l3— 26Ju|y 1990