I have spent a great deal of time in South Uist, Pittenweem and Inverness “Chasing the Ghost of Angus Mcphee” a research project which explores the work of Angus Mcphee, a very significant figure in outsider art who is framed by both the avante garde and our cultural pre history. Initially I discovered Angus’s work by chance on a visit to an outsider art gallery in pittinweem. Strange grass suits hung on the wall amidst many other interesting artworks and objects. On inquiring about the grass suits the girl volunteering at the gallery immediately called Joyce Laing down from her home and so began two new relationships. One with Joyce as she explained in great detail a version of Angus’s story and the other with Angus as i began my obsession to discover his message.
This entailed me traveling to the isle of South Uist and the highland city of Inverness to trace his family and search for clues and a deeper understanding of the culture he was part of . The weaves and artifacts of Angus hold for me a power that matches those of super-brand values with which the contemporary world is dominated. My own interest with Angus and his work acts as a gateway into Hebridean culture, my own Scottish culture, a culture I have somehow become dislocated from as have so many twenty-first century urban Scots.
Angus produced many objects and extraordinary items of clothing woven from grass and leaves while he was a patient in Craig Dunain hospital in Inverness. The South Uist islander and former Lovatt scout and soldier became a psychiatric patient after the onset of schizophrenia. Mute for 50 years he created magical outfits from rope woven from seagrass and wool plucked from barbed wire fences found on the hospital farm. Some of his work, including a pair of giant boots and a jacket, survived and are considered to be exceptionally high-quality artefacts within the international outsider art community. The techniques used ancient netting techniques handed down from father to son in the island communities. These clothes created by Angus were an exact match for the garments discovered on Otzi the 5000-year-old ice mummy discovered in 1991 in an Italian glacier. His woven cloak and jacket and leggings were created with the exact same materials and techniques that angus was using long before the mummy’s discovery.