Malcolm Robertson - Last of the great town artists

Malcolm Robertson with his 1993 work 'The Audience' which depicted pupils then attending the nearby Newcastle Primary School
Malcolm Robertson with his 1993 work 'The Audience' which depicted pupils then attending the nearby Newcastle Primary School

His work can be found in far flung places across India and Florida in the USA, but for many readers he is synonymous with his creative skills a lot closer to home.

For Malcolm Robertson - the last of the great town artists - is responsible for some of Glenrothes’ most recognisable public sculptures and landmarks including the Giant Irises, George and Margaret, Birds and The Dream.

Malcolm Robertson with one of his sculptures which caused controversy when it was covered up by the Rothes Halls and hidden from the public.

Malcolm Robertson with one of his sculptures which caused controversy when it was covered up by the Rothes Halls and hidden from the public.

Some 24 years after his role with the Glenrothes Development Corporation (GDC) came to an end, he returned to the town that has a huge impact on his career, as part of a lecture series to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Glenrothes Art Club.

Malcolm joined the GDC’s architecture and planning department in 1978 as the replacement for original town artist David Harding who had blazed a trail with the pioneering programme of public art in Glenrothes.

Following that tradition, Malcolm’s 14 year tenure saw him produce a staggeringly varied range of site-specific sculpture, artworks and murals and thus continued the town’s pioneering and ground breaking attitude to 
public art.

A graduate from Glasgow’s School of Art and later a teacher, he came to work in Glenrothes in 1978.

“As a student you are always told not to compromise on your vision and your talents, be an original thinker, be yourself, but when I came to Glenrothes as part of a team I had to take on board the ideas of other people working together for the common good,” explained Malcolm.

That structured approach brought instant results with his complex and eye-catching sculpture The Birds taking pride and place outside the newly built Kingdom House in the town centre. The work has since been awarded listed monument status by Scottish National Heritage in 2011.

Of Malcolm’s other works, none is more striking than Giant Irises which now take pride and place at the roundabout close to Riverside Park.

Produced as part of the town’s involvement in Glasgow’s Garden Festival in 1988, the initial brief was to merely ‘create a nice flower display’.

“We came up with the idea of giant irises made from steel and fibreglass, I didn’t know if I could actually achieve the idea, I’d never made anything like it before but the pitch was accepted,” Malcolm told the Gazette.

“They were a focal pint to an award winning design which was to promote Glenrothes as a place to come to live, grow and prosper, only afterwards did I learn that irises are traditionally a symbol of hope and optimism, which was fitting,” he added.

During his time in the town, Malcolm has immortalised shoppers - George and Margaret - a sculpture that still delights passers by from its position in Lyon Square, had help from Newcastle Primary School pupils in creating a gallery of faces in clay, with his numerous other works decorating the former new town’s landscape to this day.

His work has even been embroiled in controversy when a public campaign to reinstate the sculpture ‘Rothes Remembered’ after it had been inextricably covered over by those responsible for the running of Rothes Halls where it was situated.

“It was a work with royal connections,” he explained.

“I thought it would be a cool idea to create a piece of work that remembered the area and those who worked here before the new town was established.”

Cast in bronze, ‘Rothes Remembered’, situated in the ground floor lobby of Rothes Halls, features three figures - Jimmy one of the last miners ever to go down the ill fated Rothes Pit, Donald a corporation gardener and George Meldrum who was the last ever game keeper to work on the Rothes estate.

In a strange twist of fate, the George featured in the finished work eventually ended up living in Leslie House, former home of the family he served, when it became an eventide Church of Scotland home and was occasionally visited by the Queen because of his son being her chief gun dog handler on the Sandringham estate.

Malcolm established his own professional practice in 1991 and to this day continues to work on commissions, dividing his time between Scotland and Florida where much of his most recent works can be found.

He admits however that Glenrothes will forever hold special place in his heart.

“It was an exciting and hugely creative time, but also a time that gave me the discipline, confidence and belief to do what I do to this day.”

Dreaming of peace and harmony ...

“I’m privileged to have been able to create a piece of work that is one of the most symbolic and meaningful pieces I have ever done”, explained Malcolm of his sculpture ‘The Dream’.

“I wanted to create a sculpture that represented some sort of hope - like a dream for a better future - where we can all live together in harmony and where we can all be in support of each other.

“We have this long established relationship with with our twin town Boblingen in Germany but there is no physical symbolic piece of art that that demonstrates the close ties. I created a piece of work and gifted it to the people in Boblingen and then did a replica

for Glenrothes.

“So I developed the idea, presented it to the GDC of children from different nationalities, together innocent, eyes closed in this dream. The finished sculptures are both sited close to main roads, a church and shops and close to public pathways. When we unveiled it in Germany in 1990 a month later the Berlin wall came down. I believe things can sometimes happen at the right time and the dream is certainly one of those occasions.”