George Wyllie art gallery to open in Greenock

Thirty-five years ago an 80ft-long paper boat was launched on the Clyde to highlight the loss of industry in the west of Scotland.

The artist behind the striking endeavor, George Wyllie, joked that "on paper" he was the only shipbuilder left on the Clyde.

Now Wyllie - who was renowned for his large-scale public art - is to be the subject of a new museum opening in Inverclyde this week.

The Wyllieum on Greenock's waterfront will house two temporary exhibitions of Wyllie's work and offer local artists the opportunity to display their responses to his art.

George Wyllie
[Estate of George Wyllie]

The museum forms part of the £20m cruise ship visitors' centre at the town's Ocean Terminal.

The location of the museum on Greenock's waterfront pays tribute to Wyllie's life.

Although born in Glasgow, he lived and worked in Inverclyde for many years.

Prior to becoming an artist in his 50s, he worked in Greenock's custom house as an excise officer for 30 years.

The gallery's inaugural display, Spires, was co-created by museum director Will Cooper and sculptor Sara Barker.

Starting in 1982, Wyllie's work on Spires utilised materials "borrowed" from shipyards on the Clyde which went on to be displayed across the world from the Inner Hebrides to Berlin.

Mr Cooper has collaborated with George's family and been given access to his archive of work which includes early sketches of Paper Boat and another famous work, Straw Locomotive.

It hung from the Finnieston Crane - over the River Clyde - in 1987.

He said: "The Wyllieum will present a space where we can all enjoy art that helps us to understand the world around us.

"George Wyllie was an incredibly progressive thinker - making work about climate change, colonial politics, and the growing power of an unregulated financial sector, all years ahead of their shift into mainstream public consciousness.

"He had the incredibly rare skill of taking these complex, multi-layered subjects and distilling them into direct and approachable works of art, where subjects are communicated with deftness and flair."

The free exhibit will be the largest collection of Wyllie's work in the world and continue his belief in art being a "public service".

Mr Cooper added: "We have a brilliant opportunity at the Wyllieum to share George’s thinking with the people of Greenock and beyond, offering a space where creativity, passion, empathy, and humour can become vital tools in our comprehension of an increasingly complex and fragmented world.

"George believed art was a public service, vital to our individual and collective wellbeing, a shared framework to tackle some of the world’s most challenging subjects. We think George was pretty spot on about that."

George Wyllie's daughter, Louise Wyllie, said it had been a joy to witness fresh energetic people bringing her father's work to new audiences.

"As a family, we are excited about [Mr Cooper's] plans. In his job as a Customs and Excise officer, my father spent a lot of time at the docks in Greenock where the Wyllieum now sits," she said.

"His family is invested in seeing this cultural space thrive. We recognise in Will and foundation chair, Michael Dale, the drive and ability to deliver a unique arts space for my father’s beloved Inverclyde and, of course, for Scotland.”