Stephen Bann

Chiasmus: Shenstone’s Kingfisher at Stowe


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Stephen Bann born 1942
Screenprint on paper; collaboration with Ron Costley and Bob Chaplin
Support: 383 × 505 mm
Presented by the artist 2017


Chiasmus: Shenstone’s Kingfisher at Stowe 1982 is a landscape-format print produced in collaboration with Ron Costley and Bob Chaplin. This merges references to the poet and landscape gardener William Shenstone, and especially his garden the Leasowes, with Virgil’s notion of the Pastoral (a key influence for both Bann and his close friend Ian Hamilton Finlay [1925–2006]) and then also to Capability Brown’s garden at Stowe; the kingfisher (the emblem adopted by Shenstone) and the ideal of the Pastoral providing a point of connection between the contrastingly conceived landscapes of the Leasowes and Stowe. In the print a green landscape format oblong is screenprinted on a sheet of paper – two blue lines, one cursive and one straight, cross the oblong. Above this, the poem’s title is printed in black and below are two lines, one from Virgil’s Georgics that was chosen by Shenstone as his motto, ‘Flumina amem silvasque inglorious’ (‘may I love the waters and the woods though I be unknown to fame’), and the other being the Temple family motto inscribed into the temple at Stowe, ‘Templa quam dilecta’ (‘How lovely are thy temples’); taken together they describe one paradox at the heart of Virgil’s pastoral.

The print develops Bann’s growing interest in the cultural history of garden design as seen in the slightly earlier The Garden as a Parenthesis 1980 (Tate P20834). It also reveals his increasing dialogue with Ian Hamilton Finlay regarding the development of the latter’s garden at his home Stonypath, in the Pentland Hills outside Edinburgh. In 1981 Bann had written A Description of Stonypath – a guide to Finlay’s garden and, in the introduction, linked Stonypath to the Leasowes.

Chiasmus: Shenstone’s Kingfisher at Stowe and another print from 1982, A Circle and an Oval in Piedmont (Tate P20837), were printed by Bob Chaplin in editions of twenty. This copy of Chiasmus: Shenstone’s Kingfisher at Stowe is number sixteen in the edition. 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.)

Chiasmus: Shenstone’s Kingfisher at Stowe 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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