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Alexander Stoddart: talking statues

The Scottish sculptor Alexander Stoddart, a resolute Classicist, has
long been cold-shouldered by the modern art world, writes Clive Aslet. He
did not go quietly but argued his case and, at last, his classical figures
from past and present are gaining patrons and increased public exposure.

Stoddart’s first love was music and he still plays the piano every night. Until recently he attended services at Paisley Abbey, which, as part of the Church of Scotland, is one of few Scottish churches to maintain the choral tradition. Perhaps characteristically, Stoddart has stopped going in protest against a ‘dreadful glass box’ that the authorities have proposed building on to the front.

That, Stoddart says, is the trouble with Scotland. ‘The Reformation says smash impressive things. Scotland has become a metaphysically philistine country. That is to do with having become an abode of a people of the book.’ He holds that in a word culture there is no respect for beauty and people are therefore likely to disfigure beautiful buildings with ugly glass boxes. ‘Like the Jews and the Arabs, Scots worship logos. The word is on high but as everybody knows the word is a very crude instrument, because it is the handmaiden of the concept. Artists are concerned with the percept.

‘That is what Felix Mendelssohn meant when he was asked, “Do you write music to represent ideas that are too vague for words?” “On the contrary,” he replied, “I use music to express ideas that are too precise for words.” Try to describe the Meistersingers’ overture in words. It can’t be done. It’s a case of an axe as opposed to a crochet hook.’

The obvious thing, surely, would be to leave Scotland. But that would, in some ways, be too easy a choice. Stoddart is staying to battle it out. ‘My great ambition is to do sculpture for Scotland.’

Full 1800-word feature at the Daily Telegraph.

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