“I like people to be able to see a story in my art,” says sculptor Neil Grant. “I’m happy to tell someone what inspired me to make a piece, but I don’t want to tell them how to see it.” Grant left the corporate world to become a sculptor after being inspired by an encounter with Play-Doh, of all things.
“My work generally themes around controlled rebellion. I like the idea of little guys fighting big guys,” he says, laughing. When sculpting, Grant marries his technical abilities with an expression of larger truths. “My piece ‘Rising Anger,’ for example, started simply as an emotion but over time became linked to the current social climate,” he explains. “It connected to a bigger truth and yet it was still embedded in what I like to do, which is accurately render figures.”
For Grant, sculpting is exciting because it’s a permanent way to tell a story. He has been influenced by an amalgamation of artists, sculptors or otherwise. “I love the precision of Bernini, the ability to express personality of Houdon, and the edginess of Banksy,” he says. Having been inspired by so many amazing artists, it seems only natural that Grant himself has become passionate about teaching. He is currently helping to develop a ceramics program with Cotuit Center for the Arts. “Part of my mission through teaching is to try to build the population of sculptors on the Cape,” he says.
Next season, Grant’s audiences can expect a new series of his, themed around “punching above your weight.” Evolution is a natural occurrence for any artist, and for Grant, it has become a key part of his process. “I’m fairly deliberate in pushing myself forward,” he claims. The initial piece in this series will be a Winston Churchill figure in the pose of Muhammad Ali standing over Adolf Hitler as Sonny Liston. Other works will include a young girl with boxing gloves and another young lady riding a sea monster, representing the marine environment.
“I think you can’t help but be influenced by your surroundings,” says Grant. “I made a sculpture called ‘Charlie Versus The World,’ which was inspired by my eldest daughter. She’s very much coming into the world, and she’s a fierce environmentalist. She’s very angry about some of the things happening with the environment, and so while that sculpture is a young girl charging forward in her cardboard box tank, the underlying theme is youth standing up to power. That sort of spirit is what I was trying to capture.”
“I love the physical aspects of pushing around bits of clay,” says Grant. “My favorite part is the very first day when the clay is fresh out of the bag.” For a man who creates such thoughtful works of art, it’s interesting that what Grant loves most is the moment when he first starts a piece, a limitless sea of possibilities in front of him. Perhaps as he looks into the depth of future sculptures, he’ll see that young girl and sea monster staring right back at him.