The 9th in our series of 26 exhibition pairings juxtaposed a previously unseen wall painting by Ian Hamilton Finlay and a new neon installation by Cerith Wyn Evans.
Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925 - 2006) needs little introduction. A unique and at times controversial figure within 20th century British art, Finlay remains one of our greatest artists. He created what is arguably his most important work, the classical garden at Little Sparta, over a period of about forty years and this extraordinary place, in the bleak hills at Dunsyre to the south of Edinburgh, is now widely held to be "Scotland's greatest work of art"? (Scotland on Sunday, 2004). It is a fusion of so many of his artistic ideas and principally of his concern with man's relationship to nature.
This exhibition presented one of Finlay's most celebrated early visual poems, 'Star/Steer' (1966) rendered as a wall painting by one of his long-standing collaborators Les Edge, alongside a new neon representation of a rose made in response to Finlay's work by Cerith Wyn Evans. The neon was installed on the gallery ceiling and Wyn Evans placed a small digital radio, tuned to catch the local shipping news, nearby.
In his tribute to Ian Hamilton Finlay, Wyn Evan's specific reference is to the rose as it makes its most frequent appearance within Finlay's work: in the names and numbers of fishing boats (TUDOR ROSE OB220 / XMAS ROSE A635 / TEA ROSE FR346 / ROSE VALLEY KY45) and as a symbol of the boat tossed tragically onto the rocks: 'A Rock Rose'. Wyn Evans' emblematic rose is originally sourced from the logo of a Japanese department store but refers (obliquely in this instance) to the long history of the rose as an artistic motif: from Medieval literature, to Duchamp and to Gertrude Stein whose "a rose is a rose is a rose" is itself borrowed by Finlay in his garden at Little Sparta - "a rose is a rose is a rose...is a watering-can"?.
'Star/Steer' itself evokes a poetic idea of the sea - the word star is repeated line after line, falling down the wall in a rippling column suggestive of starlight on water; and at the bottom, riding the waves, is the word steer, the boat itself. The shape is a zigzag - the passage of a boat tacking left to right: the rose guided by the stars.