By: Jason Lahman for CODAworx
How a Figure Focuses a Place
She stands with one pair of arms outstretched, while a second pair arch gracefully behind her. She gathers up the streams of water flowing from the hem of her gown — or do they actually flow from her body? “Arria,’’ the colossal statue created for Cumbernauld, Scotland by sculptor Andy Scott, beautifully exemplifies this artist’s life-long commitment to the classical tradition of sculpture and to giving modern communities a taste of what their ancestors often took for granted: an awe-inspiring public statue that is also a comforting visual anchor in the landscape.
“It may sound like a cliché, but sculptures such as this can absolutely transform space into place. People come back to these pieces and these pieces then become identified with the locale. It gives me real satisfaction to know people have strong emotional responses to my public works. They appeal to a very wide range of tastes.” says Scott.
When the old Romans used the term “spirit of the place” (genius loci) they were referring to what they believed was a distinct personality that inhabited a particular geographic area. This spirit watched over the land, the natural resources, the animals and human beings that made their home there. Often times a statue would be raised, in a grove, near a well or at the entrance to a town to signify the presence of that spirit.
In modern times statues placed in public spaces have stood as memorials to a person the community wishes to remember or as personifications of a particular civic or national virtue. But in all of these cases, the figure operates as a focal point- asking the observer to pause and to witness. Something very important about the place is manifested in the figure. Something that may not be directly or immediately understood, but is never-the-less believed to be key to that place and which is revealed through the statue. Scott’s modern colossi operate in just that way. They are figures that focus human attention and ask the viewer to pause and consider the specialness of that place.
Forging the Figure
‘’In my early school years I learned welding primarily to make the inner armatures for my clay sculptures. I was fascinated by the process and over time that process began to take precedence.” As Scott gained acumen with his torch, he developed a technique for using metal rectangles and squares in lieu of wet clay to create volume. Like 3-D mosaics, his sculptures are fleshed out in shimmering meshes, on close inspection, reveal that each and every piece is welded to the others at multiple points. This painstaking process yields sculptures both tremendously strong and fascinatingly delicate. Lights of various colors and changing rhythms are often placed inside the pieces animating the forms and giving them the look of otherworldly messengers and luminous guardians.
“I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from the great artists and craftspeople of the British Isles working at the turn of the last century. They brought together so many important ingredients when it comes to public art.” says Scott. “Great design, innovative ways of using the figure and a real honoring of the craft traditions including iron and metalwork.” In his native Glasgow, Scott was exposed to the work of modern design pioneers such as Charles and Margaret Mackintosh and their circle. Going on to study and learn his craft at the prestigious Glasgow School of Art, Scott was inspired by the classical and Renaissance masters and their love for the beauty of anatomy. Although Scott’s sculptures transcend any single historical epoch, the shimmering musculature of horses, the swoop of a cape, the scalloped curve of a wing and the rays of a sunburst clearly connect back to the celebration of elegance found in the design elements of the Glasgow pioneers. Beauty is a key ingredient here.
Personal meanings and myths to live by
When asked about how he approaches “meaning” in his work Scott offers this thoughtful response. “Obviously many of my sculptures are based on powerful characters from myths and stories, like the minotaur and the kelpies. The leopard installed in Aberdeen is the animal on the old heraldic shield of the city. But most people won’t know that – many people won’t know about these symbolic meanings and that’s fine. What matters is that these sculptures make people feel. Strong feelings make for memorable experiences. As people get to know these sculptures, they become a part of their lives. They can actually become a part of people’s personal stories.”
In this sense, one can think of Scott’s monumental art as the embodiment of living myth. Myth comes from the classical Greek word for story – originally an oral story passed down from generation to generation. Although this is no longer the way stories are communicated, public art that touches people in a deep way can inhabit the collective life of that community over generations. The monumentality and vitality of Scott’s figures sow the seeds of this kind of legacy.
“I think that is one of the most gratifying aspects of this work.” says Scott who has recently relocated his studio to Philadelphia. “I’ve seen the work touch people and make an impact. We’re very excited to be exploring new ventures in America and creating pieces that will bring joy and personal meaning to people in communities here.”