Animal magic inspires art in the heart of the country

 

The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is glorious in County Leitrim. Dogwood along the lanes glows crimson in early November and native ash and alder bend under the weight of dew rolling in from the bogs.

Fermanagh-born sculptor Anthony Scott lives in a stone cottage in a wooded area near Dowra, in the north of the county and close to the Cavan/Leitrim border. His bronze animals - inspired by The Tain and the Ulster and Welsh myth cycles - have an illustrious following.

Actors Dame Judy Dench and Daniel Day Lewis, Brian Keenan, boxer Barry McGuigan and the artist Basil Blackshaw have acquired his bronze sculptures. Lord and Lady Glentoran are also collectors.

"I'm lucky my work here has found such a wide audience," says Anthony.

He and his partner Maria and her three children divide their time between the cottage and Maria's house in Enniskillen.

Although isolated, the wild beauty of the surroundings inspires his work. It is also conveniently midway between his parents' farm in Belcoo and his studio outside Sligo town.

As an artist, where you live is essential, says Anthony. "Your surroundings have to be inspirational. I can walk down the lane from the cottage to a little stream leading into the Shannon. There's a beautiful old bridge over the river that's a work of art.

"It's 30 miles to work in Sligo, but I like the privacy the cottage brings. It's nice in the morning to have the drive down through the Glencar valley."

"I moved south two years ago and found this place by word of mouth. The owners offered the option to live here to get a feel for it."

The romantic idea of living in a remote cottage initially appealed to the artist in Anthony.

"I especially loved the shelter of the narrow lane to the house and all the trees. "Also the pure darkness with no artificial light - it's extraordinary. But it's cold and last winter was horrendous - I've never seen snow like it."

At school in St. Michael's in Enniskillen, Anthony's talent for art combined with a keen interest in history. "Maybe that's where the two came together in my present work," he says.

Art college in Belfast and Cardiff followed, with a series of exhibitions and an award from the Crafts Council of Ireland establishing his work firmly on the Irish and British art scene.

His latest exhibition, currently on view at Dublin's Solomon Gallery, runs until November 21st. "My parents were a bit concerned when I decided to pursue art," he says. "I could never have become a teacher, although I have lectured in Belfast and Cork."

The decision to combine sculpture with mythology was inspired by Frank Delaney's television series in the mid-1980s. He immediately embarked on a cycling tour of Ireland, visiting the ancient Celtic sites.

Anthony's studio at Rathcormack resembles an old stone stable. Appropriately, a life-size waxed sculpture of Grainne disguised as a horse grazes mutely in the centre of the workspace.

Animals played a role in the Celtic myths and the ancient tales are full of accounts of shape- changing, says Anthony. "I come from a farming background, so animals have always been a source of inspiration.

They possess a sense of timelessness, unaffected by changing fashions. They've appeared in art from the earliest cave paintings - I like to think I'm continuing this tradition.

"I like to get in early, although I really get started in the afternoon, because there's a lot of administration and phone calls to make.

"I love the privacy of going into a studio and seeing sculptures form before my eyes.

"When it works, its wonderful. When it doesn't, I close the studio and leave - the worst thing is to stick at it." Initially, Anthony intended converting the cottage outhouses into a work studio.

Installing a three-phase electricity supply would have cost a fortune however, and he quickly realised the benefits of getting right away from work in the evenings.

"When I first moved down, I lived close to the studio and I found myself going in to work on a piece in the middle of the night. "You need the distance to get perspective. Upstairs in the studio is going to be a gallery - right now I just don't have the stock because all I make goes."

Anthony and Maria have just bought a site in Glencar and intend building a house there. They will miss neighbours like Frank next door, who feeds the cats when they are away.

"This place reminds me of Narnia or Little House on the Prairie.

"Enniskillen has improved considerably, but it's more conservative. I prefer the mentality down here.

"Sligo is awash with creativity. There's an amazing intelligentsia on the west coast and the number of bookshops is staggering."