It is difficult to place Fred Stiven in any straightforward classification of Scottish artists. He worked simultaneously in the three areas of sculpture, painting and design.
A Fred Stiven "Box" is a remarkable art work; it could be described as a "boxed relief". His boxes contained a form of three-dimensional still- life, exuding calm and order and a spiritual dimension. This could also be regarded as a form of landscape, focused on the tidal space of the shoreline. Looking carefully you could discern, in the carved wooden forms, the shapes of pebbles, seashells, driftwood and all manner of flotsam and jetsam.
The boxes are exquisitely crafted; their surfaces lovingly worked upon. Colour is used sparingly - occasionally a metal object adds tension. The forms are so interrelated that together they suggest the curve of a sand dune, a breaking wave and effects of wind and tide upon rock pools reflecting sunlight and shadow. They celebrate the artistry of the shipwright. Stiven was one of Scotland's very few true modernist artists. He effectively resisted the repressive forces which have long bedevilled Scottish artists in their attempts to find recognition within the history of international 20th-century art. The fact that Stiven did not have the opportunity to live or work outside Scotland makes his achievement as a full- blown modernist even more remarkable. Like Ian Hamilton Finlay, Scotland's most famous contemporary artist, Stiven derived inspiration from the seafaring cultural heritage of the Scots. His father was a sailor who regarded the shorelines of Fife as a place of homecoming. Stiven himself was born and bred close to the southern shorelines of the Firth of Forth. He made good use of the Design School of the Edinburgh College of Art, benefiting from the teaching of two quintessentially English artists, John Kingsley Cook and Leonard Rosoman. Stiven, with a fellow student, George Mackie, went on to be employed as a teacher at Gray's School of Art, in Aberdeen. In the Sixties Ainslie Yule, an outstanding Scottish sculptor, taught alongside Stiven in the special experimental General Course in Design, working along similar lines to artists in Bucharest. When, for the first time, in 1968 Romanian artists were able to exhibit in Britain, they were warmly welcomed in Aberdeen, and artists of the calibre of Paul Neagu, Ion Bitzan and Horea Bernea entered into fruitful dialogue with Stiven and Yule. In 1968 Stiven also made a commitment to the interface between the worlds of art and science, confident that his art students would benefit from a deeper understanding of science. He collaborated with John Holloway, a lecturer in Chemistry at Aberdeen University (now Professor of Chemistry at Leicester University), to create an exhibition they entitled "Integration". Together they wrote an introduction to the exhibition catalogue. The first paragraph has the ring of a manifesto about it: The eye rarely encounters any natural object of phenomenon which is visually displeasing. Each line of the grains in a wooden plank seems inevitable, and in perfect harmony with every other line. …