The signpost points heavenwards. Jupiter, it tells me, is a mere 893 to 964 million kilometres away. I don’t know how accurate the sign is but it is a work of art and so can be allowed a bit of latitude. Wandering among the sculptures of the wonder-full thing that is Jupiter Artland, I feel the cultural distance between Lothian and West Yorkshire melting away.
When we moved to Leeds, we found ourselves living not only in Yorkshire’s “Rhubarb Triangle” but also in its emerging “Sculpture Triangle” – the fabulous Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield, the somewhat challenging Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, and (our favourite) the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Coming to Scotland we find ourselves in another culture where outdoor art is highly prized.
Art in the open air has appealed to me ever since a honeymoon visit to Barbara Hepworth’s house and garden in St Ives. Sculptures in a gallery, for all their beauty and interest, can appear as isolated, even sterile, objects. Set outdoors, they come alive. Art and nature interact and each enhances the other. Seen and felt in the landscape – amidst trees, hills, waters or the ever-changing sky – the products of human creativity truly nourish the soul.
The same is true in the urban environment, if we but give ourselves time to stand and stare. For example, to wander the streets of Scotland’s capital, or to visit the Falkirk Wheel, is to encounter a host of works by Ronald Rae. Monumental pieces of granite are strewn around, as if dropped by retreating glaciers, except that their carved forms witness not to the slow, relentless pressure of ice sheets, but to the skill and sweat of one man; to unimaginable hours of brutal craftsmanship. The largest – the Lion of Scotland, in the centre of Edinburgh – weighs in at a breath-taking twenty tonnes. When I think of Ronald Rae – both his works and his craggy, though gentle, appearance – I am reminded of the words of Japanese sculptor, Isamu Noguchi, “Old men turn to stone”.
Whether out in the countryside or at the heart of the city, outdoor sculptures enrich our landscapes and are, in turn, enriched by them. And all this enriches us. Sughra Hussainy is a calligrapher, working in Kabul. Despite decades of war, and the best attempts of the Taliban to stamp out art and culture, Sughra, along with other artists and craftspeople, works to keep alive her country’s ancient traditions. Here, amidst the scars of war and continued acts of terror, she proclaims a message that is as true for us as it is for her: “The body needs food but the soul needs beauty”.