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Scottie Wilson

Scottish, 20th century.
Born 1888, Glasgow, Scotland; died 1972, London.


One of the most historically significant figures in the history of Outsider Art, Scottie Wilson was held in high regard for his uniquely intuitive drawings by Jean Dubuffet and Picasso alike. Born Louis Freeman in 1888 to a humble family of Lithuanian immigrants in Glasgow, Scotland, Wilson lived a difficult life that was nevertheless marked by adventure. As a child, he was forced to leave school in order to helps support his family, and as a young man he traveled extensively, serving on the Western Front during World War I. Wilson emigrated to Toronto, Canada after the war, where he owned and operated a second-hand shop. It was this unlikely vocation that afforded the time and means to make art.

At age 44, Wilson began to doodle to pass the time while sitting in the back of his shop, listening to Mendelson. Using the antique fountain pens for sale in his shop, Wilson drew prolifically, in a mode much like that of Spiritualist mediums. His overwrought but refined drawings invoked a vast bestiary of fantastical creatures that earned him art world recognition. His success allowed him to return to London, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life on the periphery of the art world, to which he was drawn, but which he always despised.

Although 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. It is no wonder that Wilson’s work drew the respect and attention of modern artists, ever on the lookout for Outsider muses. Decades after his passing in 1972, Wilson is still celebrated as one of the classic Outsider Artists.

Jenifer P. Borum


Selected Solo Exhibitions

1989, Scottie Wilson: The Canadian Drawings/Les Dessins Canadiens, Dunlop Art Gallery, Saskatchewan

1979, Scottie Wilson, Galerie Schreiner, Basel

Selected Exhibitions

2012, Accidental Genius, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee

2008, Glossolalia: Language of Drawing, Museum of Modern Art, New York

2006, Inner Worlds Outside, traveling exhibition, Sala de Exposiciones de la Fundacíon "La Caixa," Madrid; WhiteChapel Gallery, London; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin

2000, abcd: A Collection of Art Brut, John Michael Kohler Arts Centre, Sheboygan

1992, Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Reina Sofia, Madrid; Kunsthalle, Basel, Setagaya Museum, Japan

Selected Collections

American Folk Art Museum, New York
Halle Saint Pierre, Paris
Milwaukee Art Collection, Milwaukee
Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Museum of Royal Worcester, Worcester, England
Musgrave Kinley Outsider Art Collection, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario
Tate Collection, London
Victoria & Albert Collection, London

Selected Bibliography

Inner Worlds Outside, exhibition catalogue, Fundacíon "La Caixa," WhiteChapel Gallery, Irish Museum of Modern Art & Ediciones El Viso, Madrid, 2006.

Murrell, Katherine, "Scottie Wilson," Raw Vision, No. 47, Summer 2004.

Petullo, Anthony J., and Katherine Murrell, Scottie Wilson: Peddler Turned Painter, Petullo Publishing LLC, 2004. 

Tuchman, Maurice and Carol S. Eliel, eds., Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art, exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1992.

Marzolf, Helen, Scottie Wilson: The Canadian Drawings/Les Dessins Canadiens, exhibition catalogue, Dunlop Art Gallery, Saskatchewan, 1989.

Melly, George, It's All Writ Out For You: The Life and Work of Scottie Wilson, Thames & Hudson, London, 1986.

Schreiner, Gerard, Scottie Wilson, exhibition catalogue, Galerie Schreiner, Basel, 1979.

Thévoz, Michel, et al., "Scottie Wilson," L'Art brut, fascicle 4, Compagnie de l'Art Brut, Paris, 1965.

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