Scottish sculptor and leading advocate of a return to traditional values in art. Born in Edinburgh, but brought up in Paisley, Renfrewshire, he studied at Glasgow School of Art (1976–80), where he underwent a ‘Damascene’ conversion from the prevailing Modernist orthodoxy to the ‘timeless’ aesthetic of the classical tradition. The development of his undergraduate studio practice was paralleled by a study of the work of the nineteenth-century Glasgow architectural sculptor John Mossman, laying the foundations for the detailed, erudite and philosophically sophisticated programmes of historical research that would later inform his approach to the production of commemorative monuments. After a brief period as a postgraduate student at the University of Glasgow, he worked in collaboration with Ian Hamilton Finlay at Little Sparta, South Lanarkshire, and although he went on to reject the older artist’s working methods, there is some similarity in their desire to combine the practice of art with a critique of contemporary society. This is evident in a number of early polemical works, such as Heroic Bust: Henry Moore, OM (1898–1986) (1990), and Biederlally (1992), which satirise figures from the worlds of both art and politics that are thought to embody elements of a more general process of cultural decline. It also underpins his international practice as a monumentalist, much of which is devoted to the celebration of historical figures whose contributions to the development of western artistic and intellectual culture he claims to have been under-recognised. Examples include the monuments to the mathematical physicist James Clerk Maxwell (2006–08, Edinburgh); the architect William Playfair (c.2006–16, Edinburgh); and the Paisley minister and signatory of the American Declaration of Independence, John Witherspoon (2001, Paisley), a duplicate cast of this latter being at the University of Princeton, USA. Allegory and mythology are also frequently employed as a means of re-asserting inherited value systems in a contemporary situation, with examples ranging from the three variants on the figure of Mercury – Mercurial, Mercury and Mercurius – in the Italian Centre, Glasgow (1990), to the colossal frieze on Homeric subjects at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace, London (2002). In addition, Stoddart is a prolific maker of portrait busts, many of which are acts of personal tribute to fellow adherents to the classical tradition, such as the architect Robert Adam and the painter Barry Atherton. Stoddart was named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List of 2008/09 as HM Sculptor in Ordinary in Scotland, and is an honorary professor at the University of the West of Scotland, Paisley, where his studio is currently located.
Principal source: information provided by the artist.
Bibliography: I. Jack, ‘A Life in Sculpture’, Guardian Review, 6 June 2009, p. 13; R. McKenzie, Public Sculpture of Edinburgh (2 vols), Liverpool, 2018, vol. 1, pp. 76–81, 85–91, 183–86, 259–65, vol. 2, 87–91, 356–60; A. Stoddart, ‘John Mossman: sculptor 1817–1890’, unpublished undergraduate dissertation, Glasgow School of Art, 1980.
Ray McKenzie 2018