2003-08-13 03:38:03 UTC
Architect/sculptor who ever sought to extend his artistic domain
13 August 2003
Adam Zyw, architect and sculptor: born Edinburgh 26 May 1948; married
1970 Marigold Watt (one son; marriage dissolved), 1985 Jenny Brown (two
sons; marriage dissolved), 1995 Helen Harper; died Banff 18 July 2003.
The death of any working artist unavoidably raises questions about promise,
achievement and fulfilment. In Adam Zyw's case, this is particularly
poignant and painful because of his unerring openness to criticism, both
favourable and unfavourable, of his impossible quest to become a latterday
"Renaissance Man". This very public ambition manifested itself unashamedly
in simultaneous and successive involvements in areas of creativity which,
from early on, included architecture, landscape architecture, sculpture,
drawing and poetry, not to mention a host of minor interests such as
furniture design and making, cooking and nature.
Zyw was born in 1948 in Edinburgh. His father, Aleksander Zyw, was a Polish
émigré artist - a sometime war artist, of recognised ability and significant
status - who died in 1995, and a Scottish/English mother, Leslie Goddard, of
formidable charm and strength.
This exotic background, in his childhood and adolescence, made a
contribution to a youth and early manhood of originality and unorthodoxy on
which the birth of his brother Michael made further impact. After completing
his education at Edinburgh Academy, Zyw enrolled in 1969 into the
Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, which was then,
even more than now, a centre of radical thought and activity. Following the
award of his Diploma in 1974, he attended Edinburgh University's
postgraduate two-year course in Landscape Architecture. From there he took a
further slight sideways step, accepting the post of Investigator for the
Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland.
On the completion of the three-year contract in 1981, Zyw established a
one-man architectural practice. As well as working on projects alone, he
occasionally informally collaborated with other architects in the pursuit of
larger commissions. There is little physical evidence of this seemingly
half-hearted return to mainline architectural practice, coinciding as it did
with involvement in restaurants, some part-time teaching of architecture and
design in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and lots and lots of timber sculptures,
from the unwieldably large to the covetably small.
Typical of his productivity, the decade from 1978 involved six one-man shows
and 19 group shows, in sculpture, drawings and furniture. Although he was
essentially self-taught, his oeuvre was neither dilettante nor "Sunday Art",
being seriously and passionately executed, critic-proof and at home in
public and private collections. Nothing was outside his field of view; once
he even won a public competition to design a litter bin for the Scottish
Postal Board - installed outside the board's Edinburgh offices, this
enormous disembodied thistle instantly became a marker in the city, a public
sculpture disguised as street furniture.
The permanent resettlement of his parents and his brother Michael (an olive
grower and painter) in Tuscany did not stop Zyw doing his art with one eye
on his fierce and demanding father, the other on his brother and a third eye
on Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. The pressure of undoubted excessive
talent and the perceived paternal expectations more or less made him abandon
serious architecture and keep on extending - almost certainly
over-extending - in wider and wider and wider artistic domains.
Zyw's frenzied artistic activities did not interfere with a very active
social life and, particularly, with a succession of marriages. By his first
wife, Marigold, whom he married at the ege of 21, he had a son, Danny.
Alexander, the first-born of his marriage to Jenny, did not survive infancy,
but twin brothers, Thomas and David, followed. Helen, his widow, he married
His social and intellectual agility overcame many self-created obstacles and
he was loved and appreciated by his numerous friends and family. If anything
over-generous to others as well as to himself, he gave of his time both
creatively and wastefully.