Ian Hamilton Finlay, Coble, 1996 (with Peter Grant)

Ian Hamilton Finlay (born Bahamas, 1925-2006) Lived and worked in Dunsyre, North Lanarkshire.

Ian Hamilton Finlay started his career as an artist working in conceptual poetry and much of his art uses poetry or language, often to make puns or unexpected references. The sea and ships, including military and fishing vessels, are recurring motifs in his work. He has often worked in collaboration with other artists.

This work is an abstract construction of a coble, a type of flat-bottomed fishing boat made by joining overlapping planks of wood. Although it is an abstraction and the registration letters are distorted, the title ‘coble’, a pun on the word ‘cobble’, one meaning of which is ‘to build clumsily’, holds together the meaning of the work as a depiction of a ‘real’ boat. The distortion of the fishing registration 'WY 149' adds to the sense of abstraction.

Artist Biography

Ian Hamilton Finlay is one of Scotland’s leading artists and is perhaps best known for his garden, Little Sparta, at Dunsyre, North Lanarkshire, where he has developed sculpture and other artworks that explore seeming opposites such as civilisation and barbarity, nature and art, and chaos and order.

Ian Hamilton Finlay was born in Nassau, Bahamas, in 1925, but his family later returned to Scotland. He was sent to the Orkneys during World War One. He later attended Glasgow School of Art for a short period before being called up in 1942. He became a sergeant in the Royal Army Signal Core and saw service in Germany.

After the War, the artist became a shepherd in the Orkneys and while here, he developed an interest in philosophy that would be evident throughout much of his artistic practice. He moved to Edinburgh in the late 1950s and founded the Wild Hawthorn Press with Jessie McGuffie in 1961, which published work by contemporary artists.

In 1966, the artist and his family moved to Stonypath, a hill farm on the edge of the Pentland Hills. The garden became a focus for his art and philosophy, and he collaborated with stonemasons and letter-cutters to make works for permanent display in the gardens. Many works explore themes of the French Revolution and warfare in the context of a pastoral seting. In 1978, the artist renamed the home as Little Sparta. This year also saw the start of a dispute with the local authority about the status of the works in the garden, which became known as the Little Spartan Wars.

Ian Hamilton Finlay exhibited widely and received commissions for his work in Europe and America. In 1985, he was shortlisted for the Turner Prize. The positions he held included an Honorary Doctorate at the University of Aberdeen (1987), an Honorary Doctorate Heriot-Watt University (1993) and an Honorary Professorship at the University of Dundee (1999).

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