This is an exhibition mainly of printed works, but one of the first things the visitor will notice is the variety of the material displayed. There are prints, magazines, booklets, folders and cards, hardly any two of which are the same shape or size. On almost all of them Ian Hamilton Finlay has collaborated with other artists – painters, typographers, calligraphers and others – resulting in further variety. And the works take in such subjects as fishing, gardening, football, art history, the French Revolution, classical Greece and World War Two, often making surprisingly apt links between them. As Finlay put it recently, ‘why should one keep one’s interests apart?’
Ian Hamilton Finlay is essentially a poet and designer, rather than an artist in the conventional sense of the word, that is someone fabricating paintings or sculptures. He first came to prominence in the 1960s, as part of the international Concrete Poetry movement. The term Concrete Poetry was coined by a Swiss poet, Eugen Gomringer. It was used to describe a poem which was ‘an object to be seen and used … a reality in itself and not a poem about something or other.
Finlay is a conceptual artist, that is, an artist who deals with ideas. As such he is concerned with presenting these ideas in the most appropriate form, whether as a book, a print or a sculpture. His use of collaborators has given his work a social or collective voice: rather than it expressing the feelings of a single individual, it is coloured by the interpretative efforts of the many artists and craftsmen he has worked with.