One of my favourite things about public art is discovering the artist (and story) behind pieces you’ve been walking past your entire life. As my interest in sculpture has deepened so too has my curiosity. Here are five Scottish female sculptors whose names I learnt this week.
Hannah Frank, b. 1908
Hannah Frank was an artist and illustrator who was influenced by the Glasgow strand of the Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts movements. Her sculptures often feature women with elongated limbs and small, hard breasts. Many of her works lack proper titles, instead being identifiable by descriptions such as ‘Reclining Figure’, ‘Double Figure’, ‘Reclining Woman’ or ‘Head’. There’s a simple elegance to her work, best exemplified by ‘Woman With Bird, 1955’ below.
Ann Henderson, b. 1921
Ann Henderson was born in Thurso, Caithness, the most northernly town in mainland Scotland. Her work, most of which is largely forgotten, blends everyday scenes of Scottish crofting life with a sophisticated attention to form that tetters on the edge of abstraction. This is seen in pieces like ‘Man With Sheep’ on Channel Street in Galashiels, which shows a blocky farmer carrying a sheep, and ‘Hen Wife’ which depicts an older women holding a hen and looking somewhat longsuffering. One of the loveliest is the untitled piece below of a figure hunched over their own knees – all smooth lines and resignation.
Anne Davidson, b. 1937
Anne Davidson’s sculpture ‘African Woman and Child’ stands on Lothian Road in Edinburgh and depicts a child cowering behind their mother, who gazes into the road with a look of sorrow and resolve. It was commissioned by Edinburgh City Council in the 80s as a way to protest the segregationist and deeply racist South African apartheid. Her maquette of Mary Queen of Scots also has a quiet dignity. After Davidson’s death the maquette served as the inspiration for David Annand’s full-size version at Linlithgow Palace.
Helen Denerley, b. 1956
I have walked past Helen Denerley’s ‘Dreaming Spires’ so many times without ever taking the time to look into her work. Like many of Denerley’s pieces the pair of giraffes outside the Omni Centre on Leith Walk in Edinburgh are made of scrap metal, giving them a skeletal, cobbled-together sort of look which draws the eye in every time. Her work has a wild sharpness, asking the viewer to look and not touch – especially pertinent in her pieces of birds or boar. I particularly like the eager pose of ‘Jasper the Dog’ and the way the smaller giraffe in ‘Dreaming Spires’ looks inquisitively at its mother.
Christine Borland, b. 1965
Christine Borland was part of the Young British Artists movement of the 1990s and early 2000s, being nominated for The Turner Prize in 1997 as part of the first all-female shortlist for the award. Her work is centred around the human body, utilising skeletons and anatomical studies such as her reworking of ‘From Nature’ by John Goodsir, part of the collection at Surgeons’ Hall in Edinburgh, which saw her recasting the work to produce a fiberglass copy and a tie-in video. The pose is extreme, a woman flayed and painfully arched over. Her work possesses fragility and strength, often absent of colour, they make you stop and consider the human body as an object in all its mechanical strangeness – especially through her use of prosthetic limbs and computer controlled mannequins/ manikins in her shows With Practice, SimBodies & NoBodies, and From Life.
Words: Ana Hine