The Scottish-Canadian primitivist artist Scottie Wilson is often lumped in with the outsider art movement. But when you're exhibited in as many galleries as Wilson, it is hard to see him as an outsider any more.

Born in Glasgow in either 1888 or 1890, he ran away from school aged nine and worked in fairs and circuses, selling second-hand goods. When he was sixteen, he joined the army, serving in India and South Africa and later in France in World War II. He emigrated to Toronto, Canada in 1938, where he ran a junk shop. He used to collect fountain pens to recycle the gold in their nibs, but began to draw with the pens as well; he was in his forties when he started producing art works. Later he moved back to Britain. He died in 1972.

He was entirely self-taught, never learning to read or write, far less attending art school. Perhaps because of this, he preferred to sell his work in markets for a few pounds, rather than for the far larger sums they would fetch in galleries, although he still managed to make a living from his art.

Like most unschooled artists, his work seems to draw on his own imagination and technique, rather than being influenced by any part of art history. He worked mainly in ink, colored with crayon or watercolor paint. His drawings are often largely abstract designs, but mix in with that images of towers, plants, jugs and vases, fountains and birds. His images often show a struggle between destructive and creative forces; mixing grotesque figures, elaborate arabesques and sometimes very beautiful pictorial scenes.

"Fountain of Life", one of his few works with a title, depicts a tower of ornate pools with birds of paradise drinking out of each. At either side, an impossible pedestal bears a flower. There is no attempt at perspective or realistic use of colour, although he was able to draw the birds in great detail.

Fantastical decorative curlicues and irregularly-shaped, cross-hatched tiles are the main building blocks of his art, and the subjects often little more than an excuse for adornment. He demonstrates an untutored version of fractals in many of his paintings, working his curves into ever smaller branches, and seems to delight in packing as much as possible into the canvas.

He came to attention in the years following World War II, championed by Jean Dubuffet, one of the leading figures in bringing outsider art (or art brut, literally "raw art") to the attention of galleries and buyers. This interest in art by people who were not a part of the art world was a reaction against the commercialism of art and the pervasive nature of the mass media, leading Dubuffet and others to seek ever farther for truly original artistic visions.

Scottie Wilson is considered, alongside Madge Gill, the most important British outsider artist. He is found in many museum collections, including the Tate Gallery, London, and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. He is commonly classified as a part of folk art, art brut or self-taught art.


Shakan. "Scottie Wilson". January 28, 2002.

Phyllis Kind Gallery. "Self-taught art". January 28, 2002.

The Zetter Collection. "Scottie Wilson". January 28, 2002.

Galerie St. Etienne. "The Second Wave: Art Brut and 'Outsider' Art". January 28, 2002.

For examples of his work, see:

Henry Boxer. "Scottie Wilson". In Outsider Art. January 28, 2002.

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