Conference 2018 Keynote Speaker: Alexander Stoddart
November 4, 2018
Sculptor in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen in Scotland
Bio: I was born in Edinburgh in 1959, son of a graphic designer and a schoolteacher, and was a grandson of the Baptist manse. My childhood was spent in the village of Elderslie in Renfrewshire, in a house near the small monument to the national hero of the Scots, Sir William Wallace, Guardian of Scotland. The presence of this fane in my early days had a profound effect on my later life and career as a monumentalist.
I was educated in Paisley and then went to Glasgow School of Art in 1976 at a time when it was most unlikely that any student would attempt any form of traditionalism. This meant that I managed to slip through to attempt work in the old styles, as the guard was down. In those days GSA was incredibly slipshod and liberal. Today it is rather more ideologically twitchy than north Korea is … or was?
I went to Glasgow University after Art School, to write a Ph.D on the history of Scottish Sculpture in the 19th century. The thesis was never written up, but during my disorganised studies I gained a sense of the need, somehow, to continue what the great sculptors of Scotland’s Victorian period had started, and to use that body of profoundly understood monumentalism as a starting-point from which to mount some sort of resistance to the dreadful imperium of universal Modernism, which is a movement at once ignorant, philistine and cruel. There have been some successes, and I have the honour of being referred to in the curricula of the four official Art Schools in Scotland – as a paradigm of what must not be followed, on pain of expulsion. Consequently I have, among my studio urchins, many refugees from the Art Schools, both in Scotland and England; the nice kids who cannot bring themselves to lie towards the gaining of a Degree, and have no self-obsession or pride.
After post-graduate studies I decided to become a sculptor again and so began the long career-struggle, all done from my home town of Paisley. I had an unfortunate six-year period of so-called collaboration with the modernist and pseudo-classicist concrete poet Ian Hamilton Finlay, the god-father of the contemporary tendency to view the true artist as something very distinct from the ‘maker’ of the artwork. Finlay spawned an orthodoxy in which the greatest of contemporary artists have their works ‘Ghost-sculpted’ – to a man. I broke away from this servitude to return to the greatest sculptural influence of my life, the Danish artist Bertel Thorvaldsen, and slowly divested myself of all ironics, all satires and, finally, all controversialisms, all in the pursuit of stylistic understanding and object-based production.
Because I made many monuments for Edinburgh I was given the title of Sculptor in Ordinary to Her Majesty The Queen in Scotland, being the seventh holder of the title of Sculptor-Royal. I am a Fellow of The Royal Society of Edinburgh and an Honorary Fellow of the Dalai Lama Centre for Compassion in Oxford. My studios are in Paisley in the University of the West of Scotland’s campus in the town. I have honorary doctorates from UWS and Glasgow University and am a past fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford.
I have decorated many buildings by living classical architects and am currently working on the sculpture scheme for Craig Hamilton’s sensational Culham Chapel in Oxfordshire, England. There is a statue of Christ the Redeemer there, now in place, and to follow are the Twelve, along with other works of devotional tone.
Current projects in America include a statue of Joan of Arc for Longwood University, Virginia, a colossal statue of Alberti for Notre Dame University, Indiana, and a series of the Cardinal Virtues for Dallas in Texas.