Ian Hamilton Finlay

(b. 1925, Nassau, Bahamas – d. 2006, Edinburgh)

Ian Hamilton Finlay’s work embodies a variety of different media, including architectural installations, paintings, poetry, stone hewn pieces, even gardening and landscape design. Throughout his career Finlay experimented with forms and materials, exploring a multi-layered aesthetic symbolization of history and mythology, of nature and culture. Common to his diverse production is the application of texts and words, invented or borrowed phrases and other semiotic devices that he applied onto physical objects. Fused in his work is a specific formal purity and a polemical edge. He described these aspects of his work as “the terse economy of concrete poetry and the elegant simplicity of the classical inscription.”

Finlay often worked with other artists and printers who he asked to visualize his ideas through drawing or typography, which he then printed to his own specifications.

In Luftwaffe-after Mondrian (1976), Finlay creates a visual ambiguity between the black cross insignia of the Luftwaffe,
the German Air Force during the Second World War, and the abstract paintings of Piet Mondrian. This drawing is specifically based on a series of works by Mondrian from 1914–15 entitled Pier and Ocean. An opponent of the Nazis, Mondrian’s work was condemned as “degenerate” during the war years and he was forced to flee to London and later New York.

The Battle of Midway in June 1942 was one of the decisive moments in the war in the Pacific and Finlay portrayed this historic episode by presenting the aircraft carriers as beehives, fuelling their warriors with honey and sending them out to attack the enemy hive. In The Battle of Midway II (1977), the rosebushes represent the vast distance of ocean that separated the rival fleets, which never came into sight of each other. The accompanying print uses Latin text to commemorate the ships that perished in the battle.