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Andy Scott: Artist talks about the Kelpies, Aberdeen’s leopard and… Sergio Aguero

The Kelpies have become internationally renowned since being unveiled in 2013.
The Kelpies have become internationally renowned since being unveiled in 2013.

It’s more than three decades since Andy Scott began creating giant-sized sculptures after graduating from Glasgow School of Art.

And he has made the lengthy journey from his homeland to establish a new studio in Philadelphia, where he has been working on various projects during the pandemic.

Yet, when I caught up with Andy this week, he was in his element, whether recalling the seismic impact his iconic Kelpies have made on the world, talking about the response to his Poised leopard in Aberdeen or detailing his more recent work making statues of Manchester City stars Vincent Kompany and David Silva – with another of Sergio Aguero on its way for the reigning English champions.

Even he admits he could never have anticipated the adulation and international acclaim that followed the unveiling in 2013 of the Kelpies – the two sculptures named after mythical water horses which are the height of a 10-storey building and dominate the forests, walks and cycleways at the Helix park in Falkirk.

These vast labours of love, a tribute to the old Clydesdale creatures from a different world, weren’t constructed in weeks or even months.

They required intricate drafting, meticulous planning and the ability to craft finely-tuned magic from tons of heavy metal.

But they opened the door to a planet of possibilities and Andy has never looked back.

The Kelpies dominate the landscape in central Scotland.
The Kelpies dominate the landscape in central Scotland.

It’s less than a decade since he brought the Kelpies to fruition, but more than two million visitors have visited the site and discovered the power of these monuments.

Indeed, they are becoming as potent symbols of Scotland as the Forth Bridge and Edinburgh Castle – and featured in the famous Irn-Bru version of The Snowman festive advert – while myriad photographers have captured their striking beauty and stature.

Andy told me: “It’s not really for me to say that they’ve reached that level of recognition, but it is wonderful to see that they’ve been so well received.

“I’m proud of what we achieved there in Falkirk; the whole team worked together to create something really special.

“I visited just yesterday for the first time in years, and they looked glorious in the Scottish sunshine with hundreds of visitors enjoying the spectacle and experience of the horses.

Andy Scott's leopard work, Poised, has been widely acclaimed by the Aberdeen public.
Andy Scott’s leopard work, Poised, has been widely acclaimed by the Aberdeen public.

Throughout his career Andy has learned to adapt his skills to new endeavours and think outside the box in the quest for art with a wow factor.

But he admitted he was forced to dig deep to bring the 2.2-ton Granite City leopard to fruition after being recruited by building developers Muse.

He said: “I was inspired by the leopards on Aberdeen’s heraldic coat of arms, as well as the requirements of the Marischal atrium space, but it was a challenge.

“There was the engineering of the column, and fixing that to the structure of the building under the atrium floor made us work hard.

“There is a very clever connection system which is holding the whole thing in place.

“Also, as you can imagine, we had to work out the balance of two tons of leopard, to make sure that it didn’t lean and place the column under stress in that space.

“Making a sculpture that size in a studio and getting the proportions right is very tricky, so the whole process was complicated.

“But I am grateful that I work with a great team and the client and contractor were all super-helpful.”

It helped, of course, that Andy is one of life’s perfectionists, who has always adopted the attitude that genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains.

And, irrespective of whether he is working with animals, such as the grizzly bear in Dunbar that commemorates the Scottish environmentalist John Muir or human beings, such as his new football sculptures, it seems the whole world’s his oyster.

The towering tributes to City legends Kompany and Silva were fashioned and finished amid the chaos and misery caused by Covid, which obviously meant there were many logistical issues to overcome.

The end result, though, has once again been praised by fans, officials and the players themselves at The Etihad stadium in Manchester.

Andy didn’t have the opportunity to meet the duo in person but, once again, ingenuity reigned and he turned adversity to his advantage.

I would also say to them: ‘Don’t worry too much about the so-called art world.”

Andy Scott’s advice to would-be sculptors

He said: “I have always been struck by how sportsmen and women move and perform and, in the case of football specifically, how they anticipate the ball, how they combine with their teammates, and sometimes simply how they stand.

“But with their insights and extensive research of film and photographic footage, I have tried to capture their unique physical characteristics and their distinctive movements in a way which I hope does justice to both of these phenomenal footballers.

“Reflecting these elements was always going to be challenging, but it was particularly so during a global pandemic, as we were only able to meet Vincent and David virtually.”

However, these problems haven’t prevented the venture from progressing to an auspicious conclusion.

And the bold new works were unveiled last weekend, as the prelude to City thrashing their hapless London rivals Arsenal 5-0.

Andy told me: “I was approached by representatives of the club about 18 months ago and they asked me if I would be interested in submitting designs for the sculptures.

“I studied the players at length, then I watched footage of them playing and settled on poses which I thought best encapsulated them as players and their role within the club’s recent history.

Players give them the thumbs-up

“I have heard from both players that they are very pleased with the results of my efforts and the response from the fans has been fantastic too.

“Manchester City have asked me to sculpt Sergio Aguero, so I am really looking forward to tacking that incredible goal-scorer next.

“As always, there are other projects in various stages of development, but I can’t really say too much about them at the moment.

“However, as for the possibility of working again in the north-east of Scotland, if a commission came along, I would be thrilled to create another sculpture for that part of the country.”

Andy remains as down-to-earth a character as ever. He knows he was the opposite of an overnight success so he recognises how tough it can be to make the breakthrough in a domain where every cultural critic has a different opinion on what constitutes quality.

As he said: “If people asked me how to become a sculptor, I would tell them not to because it is an extremely difficult way to make a living.

“But if they insisted, I would tell them to learn to draw first and then find a patient bank manager.

“They should also wear ear protection when they are using power tools, but play their music loud the rest of the time.

“And I would also say to them: ‘Don’t worry too much about the so-called art world.”

It’s a philosophy that has reaped dividends for Andy. And, whatever anybody else might think, the public have shown they love The Kelpies and his other creations.

Sir Moir Lockhead and Andy Scott receive Wallace Awards from American Scottish Foundation