The Why?s Man

"My art is place specific and people specific." George Wyllie

Back to Words from George...


My father was a cheery man and before he died he said he'd come back as a Robin. He was always very interested in what I got up to and I wonder if my unexplainable building of unreal burds is something to do with his influence from on high. Every winter my workshop is visited by Robin factory inspector who Daphne and I know for sure is Andy. I use a capital 'R' for Robin because I am writing about my father.

Scul?ture was initially attended by a similar miracle. I returned to Scotland after four years on the Irish Land Boundary where surrealism passed for real life. It could not be matched until I discovered art. I had never exhibited, nor had the intentions, but out of the blue I decided to make ten objects for me, no matter how they turned out. They had to be completely free and without concern for their sale, subject, or what anyone else thought about them. That was how I became a Scul?tor and claimed my freedom - like a burd.

Burds are also good at helping me make Scul?tural statements, like A Canary with its Foot Caught in a Girder, Gourock, 1976, a Caro-esque update on the Ram caught in a Thicket, Mesopotamia, 3500 BC.

I once welded some vultures out of 1" angle-iron. They reminded me of a union meeting with the shop steward out in front. I put it into an exhibition and it became fine art. Welding focuses the eye and mind on the subject, and life outside the welding helmet becomes diffused. It was the same aboard The Paper Boat and this diffused view is definitely better than the real thing.

A Scul?tor has to eat and I've made some unreal burds for restaurants. One was called the Hungerbird and was made from a million knives, forks and spoons it had a nice beak and Daphne is still looking for the sugar tongs.

The biggest burd I ever build was an unreal eagle which was particularly unreal because it was built to visually dominate the underground splendour of A Day Down a Goldmine. Here are my 'Notes on Eagles':

"Eagles are birds of prey but plenty of people seem to like Eagles they are Popular with armies and, logically, air forces. Sometimes a whole nation likes to be represented by an Eagle. Insurance companies and banks are also fond of Eagles. Eagles seem to give out some sort of confidence, and it is suggested that somehow you can trust an Eagle. Eagles eat lambs."

The second biggest burd I ever made was the Berlin Burd. This burd was 5 metres high and had to look over the Berlin Wall which was 4 metres high. The politicians in Berlin were cagey about letting me do this and it was not easy to get permission. It seems that when there are student demonstrations they dig up kleine cobble stones and through them at the poliza. I reminded them that "ein vogel ist kein stein" which means, as everyone in German knows, "a bird is not a stone".

Berlin and Glasgow school-kinders cooperated by creating 500 burds of their own - all defying ornithological identification. The burds were lined up behind my big Berlin Burd who told them what it could see on the other side. A Berliner pataphysician said it was absurd to attempt to explain the confrontation of one absurdity by another. The wall came down some nine months later, and the news arrived in Gourock by phone from Berlin - "Zat you Georg? - a bird is not a stone".

I live high above the Clyde and the Gourock burds are in a continuous state of performance. They are a parallel but alien society, and with blackbird pie currently off the menu, they have a fair expectation of life. Their Leonardo mechanisms reciprocate like a fiddlers elbow as they soar in the thermals seemingly for just the pleasure of doing it.

Burds claim their freedom, and I'm for the burds.

George Wyllie, 1991

Scul?ture Jubilee, 1966-1991 (Third Eye)


George Wyllie Education Initiative

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