Wyllie’s approach has been highly influenced by Joseph
Beuys’s belief in ‘social sculpture’, which in the Germans view meant ‘moulding
and shaping the world in which we live’. Beuys’s performance on Rannoch Moor in
1970 was celebrated sixteen years later by the siting of one of Wyllie’s wooden
spire sculptures – the only type of work he does which is absent of humour and
in keeping with the German artist’s sobriety. The spires are constructed in
simple materials, such as sticks and stones, as well as engineered stainless.
They are also, in the artist’s words, ‘a sculptural indicator of man-made and
natural materials, given free movement by gravity in balance with the air which
surrounds it’. As such, they each become an ambitious metaphor for equilibrium
on a global scale.
Wyllie’s greatest challenge is to maintain the optimism and
celebratory of much of what he does while allowing for more philosophical and
humanitarian concepts to flourish. For many years now, he has developed the
term ‘Scul?ture’ as a questioning alternative to the belief in absolute truths
which our post-enlightenment Society still holds to. For Wyllie, a question
mark lies at the centre of everything.
His public sculpture seeks to capture the mood of the times
and to make an emblem for the community with whom he works. Two examples are The Straw Locomotive (1987) and The Paper Boat (1989), the first of
which was a 40 foot long sculpture of a steam engine built from metal and
straw. It was suspended above the city of Glasgow from a historic hammerhead
crane by the dockside, which once lifted thousands of locally built trains for
worldwide export. A matter of weeks later, the artist and many members of the
community who were once employed by The North British Locomotive Works
ceremonially burned the train on the site of their disused factory.
Theundoubted romanticism of the event was a deeply affecting – indeed cathartic
– moment and The Straw Locomotive
quickly entered the popular psyche of the city. Through this event, Wyllie
lamented a lost industry and yet appealed for the creative energy of those who
once fuelled Glasgow’s prosperity to be tapped once more.