If you know who Scottie Wilson was, you may be as surprised as I to learn that he is described as a Canadian outsider artist. I discovered this when I searched the Anthony Petullo collection for Canadian content, and there he was. In fact, there is an exhibit catalogue (1989) from the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan. (BTW: this 58-page catalogue is listed on Amazon for $339 – I’m not kidding! – and I bought mine for $20 directly from the Dunlop Gallery. A sucker is born … how often?)
Like all outsider artists, Scottie took a circuitous route to creating his art. Details of his early life are somewhat sketchy, but George Melly’s biography enlightens us a bit. We know that Louis Freeman (Scottie) was born in London in 1888, moved to Glasgow, and left school at age 8 to sell newspapers and patent medicines on the street. He served in WWI and it is believed he deserted the Black and Tans in Ireland because he could not, in good conscience, carry out their orders. Nothing else is known about Scottie until he turned up in Toronto, Canada 13 years later, in the 1930s. Shortly after he started drawing, he changed his name to Scottie Wilson – maybe to mark the change of direction in his life, perhaps to avoid detection by military/immigration officials, or to conceal his Jewish heritage.
Scottie scratched out a meagre living by selling various things in a Toronto junk shop. He collected fountain pens, which he sold in his shop or stripped for the gold. His life changed while doodling with one of his fountain pens one day. Scottie said:
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 them images, the faces and designs just flowed out. I couldn’t stop – I’ve never stopped since that day.
Indeed, Scottie did not stop drawing until his death in 1972, some 37 years later.