GCU honorary graduate Andy Scott, creator of the Kelpies, speaks to Roisin-Alana Di Giacomo about his work, the city that made him, and his affinity with the Common Good.
His sculptures grace the Scottish urban landscape, marking commuters’ journeys and placing public art in the lives and hearts of local communities.
Andy Scott, sculptor, artist and engineer, is the man behind some of the country’s most iconic landmarks; the Kelpies, the Heavy Horse, Arria in Cumbernauld, the Ibrox Disaster Memorial, Ravenscraig’s Steelman, and Rise in Glasgow’s Harbour.
His sculptures, which take form in his workshop in Maryhill, stretch locally from Glasgow’s M8 to Falkirk, and internationally from Queensland, Australia, to New York.
And it is at GCU’s campus in New York where Andy is preparing to stage a series of small clay maquettes. The artist has not staged a gallery show since his days at Glasgow School of Art in the late 1980s.
“It was an opportunity I had to seize with both hands,” says Andy. “My show will revisit projects that I have worked on in the past and will allow me to work on more intricate clay models.”
The event will show between 10-12 pieces cast in bronze, including a scaled version of his famous Kelpies works, running for two months at the SoHo campus from June.
The installation of the £5m Kelpies in Grangemouth, the UK’s tallest equine sculptures made from 300 tonnes of steel, propelled Scott onto the international stage. The Helix, a reclaimed scrubland, now boasts the monumental and elegant horses’ heads as its centerpiece.
It has attracted more than 1 million visitors since its opening in 2014 and has become one of Scotland’s most photographed innovations.
“Arria was the biggest free-standing sculpture until I did the Kelpies,” says Andy. “It’s not all about size, but it’s quite an achievement.”
Andy is modest about the success of the Kelpies, which have earned him an international profile and, more importantly to him, admiration from the community. “It’s the local people’s adoption and embracing of them that I’m really proud of. They’ve brought a sense of place and a sense of pride. That, and the fact my dad was from Falkirk, means there is a personal poignancy to them.”
Born in Glasgow in 1964, Andy attended the Glasgow School of Art before he made a name for himself constructing the Heavy Horse on the M8, east of Glasgow, in 1997. The Horse, modelled on the Clydesdale workhorse, put public art into the lives of everyday commuters from the vantage point of their cars, rather than within the confines of a gallery.
“My earliest community-based commissions in Easterhouse, Blochairn and Cranhill sent me down a particular path.
I wasn’t seeking those jobs; they sought me out. When people within the community raise the funds, it is a humbling experience,” he says.
Woven into the sculptures, each tells its own story about the people, the places, the challenges and the triumphs of communities. The history of the landscape and its legacy are at the centre of his work and admittedly, Andy says, this alienated him from the galleries and agents.
His work evolved in another direction, creating figurative work within communities, which were not previously associated with art and culture.
“There is a political, historical context to certain pieces, but I’m not an artist who feels that it’s my job to proclaim. I prefer to respond to the needs of the people and for the people. My job is to elevate the mundane, to make it nicer, and to place art where it isn’t expected.”
For a number of years, Andy, renowned for his popular sculpture of horses, tried to persuade commissions of other works. However, he says he’s now quite the equine expert and is relaxed with it.
“It’s become a subject I am associated with. It’s just my thing, and I’ve given up struggling with it. I love it and, in the past couple of years, I have been getting more and more academic to the point that I have become quite obsessed.”
His works are inextricably linked to the city of Glasgow, which seems to pull him back no matter where his sculptures and commissions take him.
“If you cut me, the River Clyde would come out, no doubt. There’s something about this city, and it’s not the weather; it’s the heritage, the heavy industries and the architecture. Glasgow made me and I can see that it feeds through my work. I’m a product of this city.”
We meet before GCU’s Winter Graduation 2015, where he has replaced his traditional boilersuit with something much more formal in order to receive an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters.
This is in recognition of his celebrated talent, creativity and specialism in steel structures.
“Being awarded an honorary degree by GCU is an indication that you’re doing the right thing, that somebody’s noticed and has recognised that somebody was behind it.”
Standing by his side is his architect wife Hanneke, whom he credits with helping him through his journey and his success.
He is keen to emphasise that the projects that have led him here today are a team effort and wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the involvement of other specialists.
Scott is humbled to receive such an accolade and sees a symbiosis between his work and GCU’s mission as The University for the Common Good. Both embrace inclusion and belonging and, in doing so, bring communities together.
Patting his pocket (he prepared his speech that very morning), he admits he is better at sculpting than speaking. Later, he takes to the podium to tell graduates that “every day is a school day”, to make the most of the educational opportunities that come their way, and to learn from others. He recounts how he was told once by a former teacher that he was a ‘dunderhead’, who would amount to nothing, and yet here he stands.
“There are moments when you are pinching yourself and saying holy moly, this is what it’s all about, and when those moments happen, it’s like, yes. I wouldn’t be doing anything else. It’s too late to start playing football for a living.”