Jephson Robb is a Glasgow-based artist and designer. He has created large-scale public artworks for sites across central Scotland. His sculptures and installations range from the transient to the monumental but they share common themes: change, healing, and the power of love and collective human endeavour. These themes may be interpreted at multiple levels – from the deeply personal to the universal – and are often reflected in the titles of his works.
Robb draws inspiration from his own experiences, the histories of the places where his works are sited and the parallels between the two. But while his work is sensitive to the past and materially located in the present, it also looks to the future with hope and optimism.
Much of the symbolism of Robb’s work derives from the materials he uses – which include bronze, steel, gold leaf, wool and sandbags. In Love and Kisses, for example, the self-protective and regenerating properties of weathering steel are a metaphor for bodily and emotional healing. And the humble hessian sandbags used to create Wonder evoke a sense of the power of community spirit in the face of conflict or natural disaster.
Further layers of meaning can be found in Robb’s fabrication methods. Foundry-made sculptures such as Change and Love and Kisses acknowledge the industrial heritage of their sites in Clydebank and Falkirk. But other pieces such as Cries and Whispers, Golden Age and Wonder were made lovingly by hand – the act of creating as significant, or more so, than the finished works themselves.
In the case of Wonder, the work was created with the help of local residents, who came together to fill 15,000 sandbags that were used to build three large pyramids on Portobello beach in Edinburgh. During their short life, these temporary structures were scrambled over by day and served as stargazing platforms by night. They were built to be used – not just to be marvelled at.
This is true of all Robb’s public work. Sited in communal spaces, these pieces are intended to be interacted with – touched, sat on and walked over. Through these interactions, the works may patinate or erode. And the process of erosion – like the process of creation – is both collective and full of meaning. Golden Age, for example, was created from gold leaf – an inert material that is unaffected by the elements. However, the piece has disintegrated over time, worn away by human touch and footsteps.
Gold is valuable – an age-old sign of material wealth – but it’s also a symbol of wisdom and enlightenment. Golden Age encapsulates this duality between the material and immaterial. Dualism is a recurring theme in Robb’s work, and often appears in his titles: Cries and Whispers, Known and Unknown, and Sun and Moon. The conceptual distance between these paired ideas offers viewers a space to find their own meanings in the works – to engage with them not just physically but intellectually and emotionally as well.