Ian Hamilton Finlay: Twilight Remembers (5 stars)

Outstanding overview of work by a remarkable artist

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This article is from 2012.

Ian Hamilton Finlay: Twilight Remembers

Poet, artist, avant-gardener; the late Ian Hamilton Finlay is best known for Little Sparta, the Pentlands garden he created with his wife, Sue. From this remarkable realm, populated by Greek gods, French revolutionaries, pastoral images and military technology, Finlay launched his ideas into the wider world through his Wild Hawthorn Press and numerous collaborative artworks.

The rediscovered ‘Carrier Strike’ (1977) is the centrepiece of this outstanding exhibition, an intermedia work which enacts an epic naval battle. A master of association and metamorphosis, Finlay turns an ironing board into an aircraft carrier, flanked by iron destroyers. The battle is presented as a film, the narrative unfolding through a series of stills. Shrouded by cotton wool clouds, model aircraft attack an iron battleship. John Purser’s superb score helps bring the story to life, a piccolo conveying the playful qualities of the piece while dissonant harpsichord and urgent timpani reflect the drama and tragedy of war. By juxtaposing the domestic and the military, Finlay reminds us that behind every warzone lies a home front. Such oppositions are at the heart of Finlay’s worldview: violence and beauty co-exist in the universe and it is up to mankind to take responsibility for them.

The upper gallery becomes a colony of Little Sparta, with the maritime themes transposed into the pastoral. ‘Three Inscribed Stones’ (1977) are carved with lyrical phrases: Eastern Sea, Summit in the Mist, Young Cherry. These are revealed to be the names of Japanese naval planes from WWII. There is a tension between the beauty of the words and the brutality of war, but these beach-worn boulders stand as epitaphs to fallen warriors.

In discussing such themes, it’s easy to overlook the humour that runs through much of Finlay’s work. The postcards and posters in the print room show his wit in abundance, from the delightful series of found texts drawn from Fishing News headlines (‘Shetland boats turn to scallops’) to the loving homage to Scottish football. Beautifully laid out and thoughtfully curated, Twilight Remembers invites us into Finlay’s world, offering a few gentle nudges, while allowing us to contemplate his genius for ourselves.

Ingleby Gallery, 556 4441, until 27 Oct, free.

This article is from 2012.

Ian Hamilton Finlay

  • 5 stars

Work by the late great poet, artist and 'avant-gardener', including the recently rediscovered 'Carrier Strike', a naval battle enacted with irons, cotton wool and an ironing board. Part of Edinburgh Art Festival.

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