Stephen Bann

A Circle and an Oval in Piedmont


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Stephen Bann born 1942
Screenprint on card; collaboration with Bob Chaplin
Support: 507 × 343 mm
Presented by the artist 2017


A Circle and an Oval in Piedmont 1982 is a print that provides a visualisation of two contrasting monuments in northern Italy. On a portrait-format sheet of card, a circular image of a country house is positioned above a similar sepia image within an oval – these punctuating the title rendered in serif capital letters: ‘A CIRCLE / AND AN OVAL / IN PIEDMONT’; at the base of the sheet these images are identified as the Palazzo di Stupinigi and the Basilica di Vicoforte, two of Piedmont’s historic buildings, near Turin and Cuneo respectively. As Bann explained: ‘The two sites are chosen to epitomize the contrast between sacred and secular – the pilgrimage church and the hunting lodge – within the boundaries of a small kingdom … the oval is the sign of the sacred space; Vicoforte is claimed to have one of the largest oval domes in the world.’ (In Royal Museum, Canterbury 1982, unpaginated.) Significantly the Palazzo di Stupinigi is constructed to a saltire plan whose four angled wings project from the oval main hall, on which sits its circular dome.

The print was silkscreened by Bob Chaplin in an edition of twenty, of which Tate’s copy is number twelve. It was included in an exhibition of Bann and Chaplin’s collaborative works at the Royal Museum Canterbury in 1982 and the catalogue, largely written by Bann, describes this and related works as, ‘topographical … Each is a response to a particular stimulus – landscape or work of art. But the mythic references enable more general themes and patterns to be built up over the series as a whole.’ (In Royal Museum, Canterbury 1982, unpaginated.)

A Circle and an Oval in Piedmont is one of a group of Bann’s ‘poem/prints’ in Tate’s collection that reflect at first his discovery of concrete poetry through his friendship with Ian Hamilton Finlay after 1964, and then the subsequent development of his own poetic language). In 1964 Bann had been introduced to Finlay’s work by his friend Mike Weaver, and together they visited him in Edinburgh that August; Bann has explained that the visit to Finlay ‘resulted in a frequent exchange of letters. Rapel (1963), his first major collection of concrete poetry, appeared to me to hold the promise of a new kind of poetic art, at once deconstructing language and reassembling its component terms to create a visual expression.’ (Stephen Bann, artist’s statement, 2016, for the website of the exhibition Design and the Concrete Poem, Lighthouse, Glasgow 2016,, accessed 9 August 2017.) In 1967 Bann produced the first anthology of concrete poetry to be published in Britain, concrete poetry: an international anthology. Bann included both himself and Finlay in the anthology and this relationship grew to one of collaboration and exchange over the years, so that Bann became Finlay’s major facilitator and interpreter. The historian Deborah Cherry has concluded, ‘Bann is ever attentive to the image, its “generative force” and analytical power, to the ways in which visual media offer not a record of the past, but “historical culture in the making”.’ (Cherry 2006, p.1.)

Further reading
Stephen Bann (ed.), concrete poetry, an international anthology, London 1967.
Bob Chaplin & Stephen Bann, A Mythic Topography, exhibition catalogue, Royal Museum, Canterbury 1982.
Deborah Cherry (ed.), About Stephen Bann, Oxford 2006.

Andrew Wilson
August 2017

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