This print portrays the transformation of a truncated classical column into a musical drum in four stages. The core of the column opens out, giving way to the skin of a snare. Together, the motifs allude to revolution- a theme recurrent throughout Finlay’s work. This connection between concept and imagery is made explicit by a statement written in red beneath the columns/drums, which quotes the infamous French Revolutionary, Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, ‘What constitutes a republic is the total destruction of all that is opposed to it’. This two-dimensional print may correspond with a sandstone sculpture by Finlay from the same period, Column to Drum (1990). In three-dimensional form, this sculpture depicts the same shifting motif of classical column to ‘the marching drum of the revolution’.
This work is a screen print: a technique that involves passing ink through a fine mesh support, originally of silk, upon which a stencil of the desired image has been placed. Several layers of ink are overlaid, one of top of the other, to achieve a variety of colours on one print.
Finlay's work draws inspiration from a number of fields- history, philosophy, politics, poetry and landscape design- which reach beyond the parameters of art alone. This diversity impacts upon the forms his artworks take, many of which include textual elements and word play. Finlay’s combinations of language and image often draw upon the juxtaposition of nature and culture, and evoke themes such as the power of the ocean and, as in this piece, the spirit of revolution.
Born in the Bahamas to Scottish parents, sea and seafaring were close to his heart since childhood and continued to inspire his work throughout his career. Finlay joined the British Army in 1942 and became a shepherd when the war was over before he started writing. Finlay gained wide recognition as a concrete poet and published 'Rapel', a collection of concrete poetry (poetry where the layout and typography of words contributes to its effect) in 1963. He eventually composed poems to be inscribed into stone as sculptures in a natural environment which features in 'Little Sparta' in the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh which was voted to be the most important work of Scottish art in 2004.
Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925-2006) was a writer, poet, gardener and self-taught artist. He left school aged thirteen and only studied at the Glasgow School of Art for a year before the outbreak of World War II, in which he served in the Royal Army Service Corps. His work covered a range of genres, including poetry, philosophy and history, and he is best known for his "visual poetry." One of the pioneers of concrete poetry in English, he often incorporated his poems into his artwork, most famously in the five-acre garden-sculpture piece, 'Little Sparta'. He was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1985 and was awarded the CBE in 2002.
Ian Hamilton Finlay's Website
Art in Healthcare's blog entry about Ian Hamilton Finlay
With thanks to the Tate for information about this artist