Steel Poesy by Andy Scott: An Exclusive Interview

An Interview with the Figurative Sculptor

Arabesque, Sculpture by Andy Scott

The quietness of the studio is only interrupted by the sounds made by the pieces of steel producing a strange symphony. Occasional flashes of light produced by the welding torch flood the area. Andy Scott is intently engaged at his work. He is busy with his next project, galvanising a piece of dream to define the urban landscape.

The sculptor from Maryhill, Scotland graduated from Glasgow School of Art in 1986 with a BA Hons in Fine Art Sculpture and earned a Diploma in Postgraduate Studies in 1987. Since, early days of his creative journey his works imbibed not only the myths of the land but also depicted larger than life imagery. His work ‘The Kelpies’ have travelled thousand miles across the Atlantic to be displayed in Chicago Sculpture International, 2012. ‘Those lumbering horses in the steady plough / On the bare field – I wonder, why, just now / They seemed terrible, so wild and strange / Like magic power on the stony grange,’ lingering in his ears Andy however, does not have time for resting on the laurels. He is busy weaving utopia with steel, fibre glass and cast bronze for now.

What inspired you to choose art or specifically sculpture as a mode of expression since your early days? How significant was time spent in the prestigious Glasgow School of Art been in your overall development as an artist?

I was lucky that my parents were both very supportive of my creativity as a youngster, and my father in particular would point out the tremendous heritage of architectural statuary that my home city of Glasgow has. So I guess I was aware of sculpture from a young age. My years at GSA were fun (perhaps too much fun) but also gave me the grounding in sculptural techniques and three-dimensional thinking which I now use daily. Plus, and it’s a big plus, the legacy of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the amazing structure which is the main building of GSA is an incredibly inspirational space to be part of.

Scotland boasts of a rich history both in arts and literature. How much influence does it have on young minds growing up in that culturally rich environment? If you would wish to sculpt a story or poem of one of the authors from your land just as you did The Kelpies what would that be?

I think it is absolutely critical for youngsters that they are made aware of our nation’s rich artistic heritage, and that a sense of pride of place and history feeds into the curriculum… I could only hope that this awareness would engender a respect to our natural and urban environments. As for relating to another author, I have already worked with a poet called Jim Carruth on a couple of occasions, and would love the freedom to do so again. One of his works in particular: ‘Baxter’s Old Ram Sings The Blues’, springs to mind. Edwin Muir’s poem ‘The Horses’ strikes a chord (as does Ted Hughes’ poem of the same name) with their evocative narratives based on an equine theme.

Kelpies, Steel Sculpture by Andy Scott

Your sculptures act as an identity for the places where they are erected. How do you choose your subject and decide on the narrative?

The thematic content of the sculptures is often suggested by the history, geography and society of an area, and the narrative kind of suggests itself to me when I research the environment in which the artworks are to be sited. Invariably they incorporate figurative elements, of the human or animal form… perhaps this goes back to the Victorian or Edwardian heritage of my home city, but I am a great advocate of artworks having as broad an appeal as possible, whilst maintaining as much intellectual rigour as one can invest in them… I want them to succeed as landmarks for, say, people passing in cars at 70mph, just as much as for people who have the time and inclinations to frequently visit and ponder their meaning. Therefore recognisable objects have always been my objective… folks might not get the narrative but at the very least they will hopefully appreciate a beautifully crafted object.

However my one big challenge is the often difficult balancing or compromises which have to be made when I am commissioned by a civic body such as a town council or a corporate client, as they often have very particular tastes and objectives which they want to see reflected in the art. They are not always very culturally aware and therefore can be very stubborn or reluctant to embrace a theme or subject matter in an artwork which is challenging or unusual.

Arria, Steel Sculpture by Andy Scott

Tell us of any anecdotal story from your vast experience as an artist.

One of the many examples might be ‘Arria’, a ten metre high female figure beside the M80 motorway in Central Scotland at the town of Cumbernauld. My client wanted a landmark which might create a positive image for the town. I researched topics as varied as car hood ornaments, the original Gaelic name of the town, the style of the 1960’s (when the town was built), and to cap it all decided to give her four arms to reach outwards and also to point towards the town… It is unlikely the general public will pick up on all of those themes, if any, but the response to her has been fantastic, and she has assumed a presence in the landscape of her own which transcends any of my inspirations.

Another might be ‘The Heavy Horse’. My motivations were to create an allegory or personification of the city of Glasgow, its transformation from working city to show city: hence the working horse fashioned as a show horse with ribbons and pleats, its head held higher than a Clydesdale horse physically could evoke a sense of pride. However over years I’ve been told it represents traditional agriculture, the history of the Clydesdale breed, the steel industry, modern road haulage, even the farm which stood on the actual location of the artwork which I never even knew about. The key thing is that the public have invested the sculpture with its own sense of narrative and therefore it succeeds as a landmark.

You work at a gigantic scale. Is working on such massive scale a matter of choice for you? What are the challenges that you need to cover for while sculpting? What is your favourite piece of sculpture till date if any?

I hate to sound overly practical but the scale is dictated by the site and the available budget, rather than my own ego or drive, to ‘make big’. It seems there is a peculiar phenomenon of sculptors trying to out-do each other in scale which I am very wary of getting involved in. I am also driven by a peculiarly Scottish sense of delivering value for money, much to my accountant’s dismay. I always endeavour to create as imposing an artwork as possible for the funds available, especially when an artwork is being funded by the public purse.

In practical terms of course there is an optimum scale which suits my physical ability and the weight and handling of the materials. Unlike many sculptors I actually make the artworks by hand myself (with the exception of the very biggest, say above 10 metres in height: I only have an 8 metre roof height) and in the techniques I regularly use, small scale does not really work.

As for challenges, there are many. Physically it is harder to haul myself in to the studio, especially in the depths of a Scottish winter, and a few injuries over the years are niggling at me now. Aesthetically there is the constant battle to win over reluctant clients to commission what I want to make and not simply what they want for their corporate brochures or whatever. And then there is the universal artists’ challenge of finance and cash flow… working hard on current commissions while seeking out the next big project.

Favourite piece of sculpture? That is too difficult to say to be honest. Many hold a special place in my heart: ‘The Heavy Horse’ here in Glasgow, as it was my first major outdoor work, and has now become such a landmark for the city; ‘Argestes Aqua’ in Australia for the sheer spectacle of the location and the install: we had to use a helicopter to lower it into position on a cliff overlooking the Pacific at Bryon Bay in NSW; The Beacon figure I made in Belfast at 20 metres tall was a huge achievement; and up to date this year will see the install of my current big project, which has been six years in the making, ‘The Kelpies’.

The Heavy Horse, Steel Sculpture by Andy Scott
The Heavy Horse

Depicting ‘movement’ is an essential part of all your sculptures as if they are throbbing with life. How do you manage to imbibe ‘life’ in objects made of steel?

In short: I don’t know. Truth is I simply work on the sculptures and they take the form they do… I try to exaggerate and abstract to a certain degree in order to imbue a particular emotive quality or dynamic tension, but mindful that there is a fine line between abstraction and plain ‘wrong’. I am also clear not to simply recreate anatomically perfect human or animal forms… these days that task can be done by amazing computer technology… for me it is about my interpretation of that form for a particular purpose. I just crank up the music in the studio and start welding…

How do you feel about successfully blending the traditional and modern ways of sculpting through your work? ‘Steel’ is a material you are closely associated with for a long time now. Describe your tryst with ‘steel’ as you caress and mould it into beautiful structures.

I enjoy taking what is essentially a hard and unforgiving material and transforming it into fluid and emotive structures. I sometimes liken it to a 3-d mosaic, or a painterly approach, where every segment of steel could be likened to a brush stroke which builds to create a living image. The effect of light is important, both man-made and natural… the way light shines though the artworks can create wonderful and often unexpected effects, and some of the internal illumination techniques we’ve used have been stunning. There is no escaping the legacy of my home city and its hinterland. Steel & iron was the life source of Glasgow, its shipyards, locomotive factories and heavy engineering works… now all gone, and my studio is built on the site of an old iron foundry next to the canal here… so I like to imagine the ghosts of the Glaswegian craftsmen of the past keeping an eye on me.

Trinity Leeds, Steel Sculpture by Andy Scott
Trinity Leeds

If you are asked to name the favourite place on earth for you to be in, what would it be?

I’ve been lucky to find myself in some amazing spots: my wife and I holiday every year in the beautiful Andalucian mountain village of Gaucin, where the views down the valley to Gibraltar are amazing… nothing beats a relaxing Scotch in the twilight with some Miles Davis in the background. On a more urban angle, we’ve also recently fallen in love with the city of Chicago, and of course it’s a cliché, but New York is hard to beat. However the highlight of my week is walking my dog in some of the breath-taking scenery we have around Glasgow in the west of Scotland.

Portrait of Andy Scott

Andy Scott prefers…

Perhaps not surprisingly Andy’s favourite book happens to be ‘The Great Bridge’ by American historian David McCullough, on the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. From Beethoven to Blues he has wide range of choices when it comes to music. He loves watching Klute, French Connection, Blade Runner, Goodfellas, The Shining, Gregory’s Girl, What’s Up Doc, The Graduate, Thomas Crown Affair, Aliens, but ‘nothing beats a Sean Connery era James Bond movie’. In his own words, ‘My favourite food would either be one of my wife Hanneke’s amazing dishes, or anything on the menu at El Lateral restaurant in Gaucin, Spain… or now I think of it, anything at Mother India in Glasgow.

Find more of his work at his website.

Image Courtesy: Andy Scott