Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Ian Hamilton Finlay

I suppose as an unashamed classicist, Cicero was always going to appreciate the works of Ian Hamilton Finlay- and I do. Therefore the news of his death prompts me to revisit his extraordinary work. Primarily known for his garden- Little Sparta- in the Pentland hills, Finlay was a much broader figure in Scottish culture than Little Sparta alone. His poetry, sculpture and elegant drawings, prints and paintings marked him out as a singular and unusual mind.

His struggle with authority marked him out further as a rebel, and occasionally even a revolutionary- his admiration for Robespierre's ally, St Just, being well known. Finlay's figurative work aspired to an elegance and purity of line that in some ways echoed the spare, almost Roman classicism of the early Napoleonic era. Yet Finlay was a truly Scottish figure in European sculpture- and in his admiration for Revolutionary France we could discern echoes of the revolutionary drinking clubs active in 18th Century Scotland, of which Robert Burns was a noted member.

I fear that Little Sparta may descend into a twee parody - yet the discerning will detect in his work there the spirit of an active and passionate believer in the rational and the human. An inspiring and forthright figure, his clarity will endure, I hope, long after his death.

1 comment:

Jago said...

I haven't seen any of his work for twenty years - now an opportunity to combine Little Sparta with some mountain biking at Glentress (the hardtail all terrain bike, another spare classical form).