New Art Centre

Ian Hamilton Finlay: Selected Works

Ian Hamilton Finlay: Selected Works

Saturday, February 9, 2013Sunday, March 31, 2013


Salisbury Wiltshire, United Kingdom

The New Art Centre is proud to announce an exhibition of work by Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925-2006), the first time his work has been shown in the Gallery here. It coincides with our exhibition of paintings by Eileen Hogan, which she made in response to Finlay’s work, as well as a new installation in the Artists’ House by Edmund de Waal, who, like Finlay, was inspired by the eighteenth-century poet and garden theorist William Shenstone. Ian Hamilton Finlay was an inventive and interesting artist as well as a concrete poet. He was renowned for works which played with the juxtaposition of word and image. A great achievement of his was the garden called Little Sparta which he made with his first wife at Stonypath, their home south-west of Edinburgh. There, over a period of 25 years, Finlay revived the idea of the poet-philosopher’s garden of Epicurus and Shenstone, arranging ponds, trees and plants to provide an environment for his work.

The garden’s name, a reference to Sparta’s conflict with Athens, is an allegory for the relationship between an artist and the establishment; Finlay often found inspiration in dispute and struggle, the upheaval of the French Revolution, for example, or World War II (in which he served). Evident in the works selected for the exhibition at Roche Court is the imagery and metaphor Finlay found in antiquity and Neo- Classicism, which he sometimes combines with a very particular sense of humour. Finlay insisted on the role of the artist as moralist, whose duty was to address sometimes uncomfortable and challenging truths in a civilised yet unsettling world. Equally, he was concerned with the definition of beauty and the acknowledgement of tradition in the best art of any time. Each piece in the Gallery is identifiable as a work by Ian Hamilton Finlay - the ideas, the concept, design and guidance are all his own – although in order to realise his ambitions in a diverse range of materials, he collaborated with highly skilled stonemasons and letter-cutters such as Gary Breeze, whose work is also shown at Roche Court.

Finlay first made his reputation as a writer, publishing short stories and plays in the 1950s. In 1961 he founded the Wild Hawthorn Press with Jessie McGuffie before he established himself as a concrete poet. He used a wide range of materials to convey his poems, inscribing words in stone, wood, bronze as well as on paper, and his publications played an important role in the dissemination of his work as a visual artist. In light of recent displays of Finlay’s work at Tate Britain and at the São Paulo Biennial, the presentation of Eileen Hogan’s paintings of Little Sparta alongside Finlay’s work at Roche Court is timely, especially since we share with him an understanding of the alchemy that can result from siting a work of art within a landscape: always dependent on the time of day, and quality of light and atmosphere, encountering art in a garden setting is a magical, ephemeral experience.