Scottie Wilson was a Scottish-Jewish outsider artist, best known for his highly detailed style of drawing. Wilson became an artist at the age of forty-four and is generally accepted to be one of the most historically significant figures in the history of Outsider Art. Wilson's uniquely intuitive drawings drew the attention and respect of the Surrealists and were collected by artists Jean Dubuffet and Pablo Picasso. Decades after his death, Wilson is still celebrated as one of the classic Outsider Artists.
Scottie (Robert) Wilson, born Louis Freeman in 1888, came from Glasgow, Scotland. As a young child he was forced to leave school in order to help support his family's meagre income, by amongst other things, selling newspapers on the street. Later in 1906, at the age of sixteen, he enlisted with the British army's Scottish Rifles and subsequently travelled extensively, serving in South Africa and India and later fighting on the Western Front during World War I. After the war, Wilson emigrated to Toronto, Canada, where he owned and ran a second-hand shop.
A self-taught artist and more or less illiterate throughout his life, Wilson began to draw in the 1930s. He first began to doodle just to pass the time in his shop. He drew prolifically, in an overwrought but refined style, producing a vast bestiary of fantastical creatures. The first dealer to encounter Wilson's work was a Canadian, Douglas Duncan, who displayed them in various gallery shows. In 1943 Wilson had his first solo exhibition in Toronto. After receiving recognition for his artwork, he abruptly returned to Britain in early 1945 and settled in Kilburn, London. Wilson soon became a well-known character on the London art scene and was championed by the London surrealists. A few months after his arrival he had a solo exhibition at the Arcade Gallery in London, shown concurrently with works by Pablo Picasso, Giorgio de Chirico, Paul Klee and Joan Miró. However Wilson rejected commercialism and he could be found on the street, selling his work for a minute fraction of the gallery prices. He always lived on the periphery of the art scene, drawn to it but it was one he always despised.
Wilson drew in a semi-trance state but he did not intentionally channel spirits. His distinctive drawings are fantastical and decorative. His narrow range of visual elements embody a personal code of morality where 'Greedies' and 'Evils' (malignant personifications) are juxtaposed with naturalistic symbols of goodness and truth portrayed by stylized botanical forms, animals and birds. At other times his images are self-portraits drawn as clown caricatures or seem to contain references to North American totem poles or to Indian decoration. The evolution of his style was notoriously non-existent and it is very difficult to place his work in periods because he did not date most of his pictures. Wilson preferred to use crayon, pen and ink as they allowed him to work quickly but he also experimented with gouache.
In the 1960s, Wilson began to create paintings on plates and was subsequently commissioned by Royal Worcester to design a series of dinnerware. The picture 'Bird Song' was chosen as a design for the 1970 UNICEF Christmas Card. Wilson died in 1972 and although he always complained of poverty, under his bed he had hidden a suitcase full of cash and secreted large sums of money in various bank accounts.