Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925–2006) was one of the most original artists of the twentieth century. Early in his career he was Britain’s foremost concrete poet and his approach to his work – whatever material he used, whether wood, stone, neon, bronze or paper – remained that of a poet giving form to ideas. This display focuses on Ian Hamilton Finlay’s recourse to a neo-classical idiom and his creation of sculptures that, by their conjunction of word and image, play with an emblematic use of reference and metaphor whose adopted form is most often that of the idyll.
Boat names evoke the pastoral activity of fishing and the landscape of the sea; the paraphernalia of naval warfare describes a bucolic idyll expressed as if a shaded garden temple; instruments of revolution and agriculture – a gun, a drum, a guillotine blade, a hoe, a spade – similarly harness the language of the seasonal metamorphosis in which a garden, like society, is ordered and celebrated through themes suggested by the French Revolution.
Drawn wholly from work by Ian Hamilton Finlay that is held within Tate’s collection, the display juxtaposes neon, wood, stone and bronze sculptures with printed works on paper – prints, as well as books and cards.