SCOTTIE WILSON (LOUIS FREEMAN, 1888-1972, SCOTLAND)
“When I’m working I can see what’s happening, and I can imagine what’s going to happen.”
Scottie Wilson was born “Louis Freeman” in 1888 to a humble family of Lithuanian immigrants in Glasgow, Scotland. As a child, he didn’t complete many years of schooling in order to helps support his family, and as a young man he traveled extensively (France, South Africa, India), serving on the Western Front during World War I.
Wilson emigrated to Toronto, Canada, around 1935, where he operated a second-hand shop. It was here that he began to draw images of the eternal struggle between good and evil.
He was fascinated by a pen that he had come across in his store and suddenly was compelled to put it to use: “I’m listening to classical music one day – Mendelssohn – when all of a sudden I dipped the bulldog pen into a bottle of ink and started drawing – doodling I suppose you’d call it – on the cardboard tabletop. I don’t know why. I just did. In a couple of days – I worked almost ceaselessly – the whole of the tabletop was covered with little faces and designs. The pen seemed to make me draw, and the images, the faces and designs just flowed out. I couldn’t stop – I’ve never stopped since that day.”
Wilson drew like a Spiritualist medium; his overwrought but refined drawings invoked a vast bestiary of fantastical creatures that earned him art world recognition. Wilson drew in a semi-trance state, he did not intentionally channel spirits as did mediumistic artists also active in Spiritualist communities. However, his drawings share many traits with the work of his mediumistic counterparts: highly symmetrical compositions in which faces and figures emerge from an undulating, unstable ground; images that seem paradoxically alive and yet static; the sense that each work reveals only a small part of a larger, mysterious universe, known only to the artist. His lexicon includes birds, animals, self-portrait clown caricatures, all emerging from an otherworldly web that also seems to engulf them.