Artist and poet Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925-2006) was a man of many contradictions: a writer of words and a conceiver of objects, a collaborator and a fighter. Acutely conscious of the presence of history, he was witty and urbane, yet lived in rural isolation, making a barren Scots hillside into a garden, and invoking his revolutionary heroes there. Greg Thomas examines his performative relations with the functionaries of the art world, and assesses the ethical worth and creative achievements Finlay worked into those bureaucratic processes apparently so devoid of artistic potential.
The Ian Hamilton Finlay Papers at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, contain a typed note in the style of a press release, outlining a recent “Objective Event…staged at the Scottish Arts Council, 19 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, on Wednesday 14 March 1979.” Headed “Words as Objects, Objects as Words”, the note indicates that “The Event was directed by Mr ‘Sandy’ Dunbar (Director, Scottish Arts Council) and was organised by the poet Ian Hamilton Finlay. It is anticipated that the Event will be documented by Mr Dunbar and Mr Logan, solicitor to the SAC.”[i]
This little curio provides an insight not only into a drawn-out and multi-layered dispute with Scotland’s cultural bureaucracy, but into the working methods of an artist and writer nowadays not primarily celebrated for his event-based work. It’s a side of Finlay’s oeuvre which has proved difficult to account for, because much of it was haphazardly or privately documented, and because it was seen to varying degrees by all involved as a matter of biography rather than art. But Finlay’s Battles (always capitalised by their author), for all that they bore ramifications exceeding the artistic – notably economic, legal, and emotional ones – provided fertile ground for the cultivation of a playful, idiosyncratic creative practice. This practice bordered conceptual and performance art while expressing values largely anathema to the milieux from which those movements arose—closer in spirit, Finlay claimed of one event, to “J-L David’s Revolutionary pageants” (letter to Laurie and Tom Clark, 14 February 1983).[ii] Such pageantry constituted the backdrop to Finlay’s better-known output of language and object-based artworks from the late 1960s onwards, achieving a kind of semi-formalised manifestation by the time of the Objective Event. Although reconstructing the Battles brings us into proximity with the more zealous and tempestuous aspects of Finlay’s persona – as opposed to the thoughtfulness, the diffidence, the wit, recalled in many character portraits – they deserve closer scrutiny.[iii]
The origins of the Objective Event – sometimes called the Crates Event or Words as Objects – lie in the late summer of 1976, when Finlay was offered a major exhibition at London’s Serpentine Gallery the following year, to be financially backed by the Arts Council of Great Britain. He mentions the prospect of the show in letters to friends from early September onwards. On 10 August, Patrick Gibson (Chairman of ACGB 1972-77) had written to Finlay stating that he was “glad to hear” of the Sherriff’s judgement in the 1974 case of the Crown vs Fulcrum Press, and that the matter was, in his view, “settled”. In 1969, the independent press Fulcrum had falsely marketed a collection of Finlay’s poems as a first edition, a decision which, Finlay felt, had been scurrilously tolerated by ACGB and its affiliates (including the Scottish Arts Council) and which was ultimately resolved at Glasgow Sheriff Court in October 1974. Though Fulcrum was found not guilty of contravening the Trade Description Act this was, according to one press report, only because the judge ruled that no one would have believed its publication was a first edition, and the moral victory was felt by many, including Finlay, to have been Finlay’s (Wright, “Edition Destroyed”). Gibson was now keen to assure Finlay that they were agreed on this, and “to withdraw any previous Arts Council statement which may have indicated that the Council had formed a contrary view. I have discussed this with the Chairman of the Scottish Arts Council and he agrees with the terms of this letter.”[iv] The apparent clinching of the Serpentine show around this time is perhaps no coincidence. Finlay later surmised to Lord Balfour, Chairman of SAC 1971-80, that the exhibition had been offered by ACGB following their public apology for the Fulcrum debacle “as a kind of seduction”, to cement future working relations (1 August 1978).
The exhibition, simply entitled Ian Hamilton Finlay, ran at the Serpentine from 17 September to 16 October 1977. It went some way to securing Finlay’s reputation as an internationally significant artist, and marked the culmination of a shift in his aesthetics from the visual-linguistic modernism of concrete poetry to a neo-classically invested, primarily sculptural practice, whereby three-dimensional forms were often used in conjunction with linguistic epithets or maxims to establish what Stephen Bann called, in his catalogue notes on the exhibition’s “Neo-classical room”, “a cultural tissue in which…various levels – the Classical, the Renaissance and the Modern – are indissolubly united” (qtd. in Alec Finlay 250).
Amongst the exhibited works were two inscribed stone tablets loaned by the Scottish Arts Council, Even Gods Have Dwelt in Woods and Small Is Quite Beautiful. These were set to become spoils of a Battle in the offing. Both were included in the Neo-classical room, and in many ways, both exemplify the kind of lithe cultural-historical synthesis which Bann describes. In the case of Small Is Quite Beautiful, the folk aesthetics of individual craftsmanship implied by its title phrase are invested with the cultural ambience of its Roman epigraphy, while Even Gods… consisted of a relief-etched illustration of a World War Two US battle cruiser, set in sylvan surroundings with foliage camouflage; below was etched the title quote, a line from Virgil’s Eclogues. We are invited to place twentieth-century military conflict in the shadow cast by classical culture and poetry, as if its codes of moral and aesthetic value could provide some enlightening and redemptive framework for the chaos of modern warfare. The analysis provides a clue as to the scales of value – unwavering, aloof to the ethical relativism of twentieth-century modernity – which would animate Finlay’s conduct in the conflict to come.
The reviews of the Serpentine show were relatively few and not uniformly positive. Writing in the Spectator (8 October 1977), John McEwen offered a carping and somewhat factually challenged appraisal, claiming, contra much of the evidence of the Fulcrum Affair, that “[n]o artist is more fawned upon by the public sector of the art world at the moment than Ian Hamilton Finlay.” What the councils “fail to see”, McEwen went on, “is that Hamilton Finlay is at best a purveyor of middlebrow tourist knick-knacks and at worst a sort of Morningside version of Ossian.” A specific critical position is hard to impute to McEwen’s article, other than a vague aversion to what are perceived as the more kitsch aspects of Finlay’s aesthetics.
McEwen had, of course, picked the wrong adversary. Finlay reported both him and the Spectator to the Press Council: not, as Finlay put it to McEwen (7 June 1978), because “you dislike my work”, but because the review contained “slovenly errors of fact” detrimental to artistic culture as a whole, most significantly the implication that Finlay’s relationship with the Arts Councils was a nepotistic or cosy one. Finlay also pressed various friends to write to the Spectator and to other complicit or sympathetic institutions and individuals. In June 1978 the Press Council adjudicated as follows: “[c]ritics are entitled to be as critical as they wish to be but they should be accurate. There were factual inaccuracies [in McEwen’s review] which were considered significant by the artist and only some of them were corrected. To that extent the complaint against the Spectator is upheld.”[v] Writing in gratitude to the Council on 13 June 1978, Finlay noted that “[a] precedent has been established. However…it is not, in the end, a question of whether an adjudication, or even a law, exists but of whether there is in a people the will to understand and use that law or precedent.”
The Spectator’s acknowledgement of the council’s ruling suggested to Finlay that such a will was absent. The June 17 issue of the magazine contained an uncredited statement entitled “The Press Council”, which began: “Mr Ian Hamilton Finlay is a Scottish concrete poet who almost never leaves his home at Stonypath in Lanarkshire.” It asserted that, although Finlay claimed McEwen’s review contained “a number of factual errors”, they had only been able to locate two, both of which McEwen had publicly apologised for although the Spectator considered them to be of “extraordinary triviality.” The author also noted that in the months following the review:
The Spectator was bombarded with letters of complaint from [Finlay] and from many others whose attention — one might reasonably suspect — had been drawn to the review by Mr Hamilton Finlay himself. The language of these letters was often extravagant. Mr. McEwen was accused by Mr Hamilton Finlay of lying and was described by him as a ‘glass-fleshed lout.’ He was also banned for life from one Edinburgh art gallery.
The author concluded by quoting verbatim, without endorsement or apology, the Press Council’s ruling.
Finlay had somehow read this statement prior to the publication date, just before the planned opening of the touring leg of his Serpentine show at the Scottish Arts Council Gallery on Charlotte Square on Friday 16 June. As the Scotsman’s drama critic Allen Wright recalled in an article published on June 19:
On Friday, [Finlay] telephoned me to say that the “Spectator” had returned to the attack on him. Angered by the derisory way in which they had handled the Press Council’s adjudication, he said: “Something has to be done!” Little did I think that he would do anything as drastic as cancelling his exhibition at the Scottish Arts Council’s gallery in Edinburgh that evening, just as the guests were arriving for the private view. (Wright, “Brush with the Art Establishment”)
The cancellation of the show just hours before the private view was, for Wright, a gesture that risked alienating Finlay’s supporters, who might well “see little connection between Mr Finlay’s dispute with the ‘Spectator’ and the fact that the Scottish Arts Council were showing his work.”
Finlay’s own account of his motives is, characteristically, more focused on the need to enforce binding aesthetic and ethical principles across a culture as a whole. Writing to a sympathetic member of the public, David Fergus, on 6 July 1978, he recalled that following the original Spectator review:
I asked the Scottish Arts Council to correct, (in respect of its own integrity), the reviewer’s assertion that I was fawned on by the Councils, and that they were in awe of me. I reminded the SAC that I had been in dispute with the Councils for a period of 8 years, following the ACGB and SAC’s defence of a fake ‘First edition’ of one of my books,…The SAC Director (like the ACGB Chairman) never wrote to the Spectator, and specifically declined to do so….I hope you will now see that my withdrawal of the exhibition from the SAC’s Charlotte Square gallery, was not…an act of “protest against the philistinism of the Spectator”, but a consequence of the Arts Councils having failed to write, last autumn, (at the time of the original exhibition and Spectator review), the letters they so clearly ought to have written, not to defend me, or my work, but to uphold standards in the arts.
In the years following the withdrawal, Finlay would come to define it as an act of protest against the absence of the moral and aesthetic standards which his works sought to embody in the culture to which they were gifted. As Finlay later put it, in a letter to the critic Yves Abrioux, “the absence of the works was a clearer statement of their content” (qtd. in Abrioux 12).
The breach established with the SAC and its parent organisation ACGB was, however, not yet permanent. In later correspondence, Finlay makes clear that he had felt the Councils could still be ‘educated’ as to their proper cultural function, in spite of the culture of untruth which they had allowed to flourish. That changed just over a week later, on June 26, after Allen Wright wrote another article on the Charlotte Square withdrawal, stating that “[a]nyone familiar with Mr Finlay’s activities over the last decade will know that, for most of that time, he has been in conflict with the Arts Council” (qtd. in Finlay, letter to David Fergus, 6 July 1978). This was a point that Finlay himself had been keen to emphasise to the Spectator the previous autumn. But in this context, it was considered “accurate but inadequate”, as he noted in a further submission to the Press Council on 30 June 1978, for it failed to clarify the reasons for that period of conflict, namely the Councils’ unacceptable conduct during the Fulcrum Affair.
Finlay also felt that having such statements publicly circulated risked his professional reputation. In particular, as he made abundantly clear to Roy Shaw, Secretary-General of ACGB, in a letter of 31 July 1978, he was concerned that the insinuation that he was difficult to work with might undermine a current project involving the North of Scotland Hydro Board. He decided that “the simplest and most dignified way” to resolve the situation “was to ask the Arts Council of Great Britain itself to write a brief letter to the Scotsman”, clarifying the reasons for past hostilities with the Councils (Finlay, letter to David Fergus, 6 July 1978). Such a letter was written by a lower-level ACGB employee, dictated over the phone to SAC, and delivered to the offices of the Scotsman. By this point, however, the new Chairman of the ACGB Kenneth Robinson (1977-82) had got wind of the plan and “suddenly forbad the publication of the letter to the Scotsman” (ibid.) Robinson’s motives for doing so are unclear, but in any case, the fact that the letter had already reached the newspaper offices before being censured seemed to sharpen Finlay’s sense of outrage when he heard of the volte-face.
This time, the breach was permanent (or at least indefinite). The Arts Councils had proved themselves incapable of learning. Over the next few weeks Finlay’s certainty on this issue grew, and he resolved to cut all present and future financial and administrative ties with Councils. As he put it on 1 August 1978 to Philip Wright, Arts Director of SAC:
I intend to maintain (this time, having learned my lesson) a resolute and consistent embargo on all Arts Council-associated activities,…it is worth recalling that, in the aftermath of Charlotte Square – now less the name of a Square than the site of a Battle, I note – I fully anticipated a compromise between myself and the Arts Councils, which would allow all the exhibitions (etc.) to go ahead, while I would personally (and in recognition of bureaucratic embarrassment), stay tactfully in the background….Unfortunately, I did not forsee [sic.] – and who would have forseen? – that the Councils would render any compromise impossible by a series of reckless actions, on the most petty level.
The SAC might have felt that one of the implications of Finlay’s new position was that all artworks of his that were in their possession should be returned. Perhaps for this reason, in July 1978 two stone reliefs held at Charlotte Square – Small Is Quite Beautiful, created by the stonemason John Andrew, and Even Gods Have Dwelt in Woods, constructed by Richard Grasby – were returned to Little Sparta. They had been sent in error. The Scottish Arts Council had purchased them in March 1977, and Finlay’s embargo did not entail the return by the SAC of purchased work. Indeed, the gesture seems redolent of the kind of haphazard bureaucratic thinking which Finlay deplored, and which he perhaps took to signify a similar lack of ethical clarity.
Having declared the Arts Councils beyond the capacity for education, Finlay was now keen to impart lessons to a wider audience about their insidious cultural influence, and in the accidentally returned reliefs he had been gifted a prop. On Bastille Day 1978 (14 July), as he later recounted to his friend, the art collector Ronnie Duncan (23 March 1979), Finlay proposed to the SAC a playful handover ceremony at Little Sparta, which would “star” Lord Balfour, the Council chairman, amongst various other high-ranking Council functionaries, with Finlay delivering a “speech on J-L David and neo-classical revolutionary ethics.” The SAC’s dignitaries declined the invitation. Missives were sent back and forth by lawyers over the next few months, on possible terms for the release of the hostage artworks. Eventually, the Finlays received a postcard from the SAC stating that the Council were arranging for the return delivery of the two reliefs to Charlotte Square. This was followed by a phone call from a delivery company confirming a collection date of 14 March 1979 (Finlay, letter to Ronnie Duncan, 23 March 1979).
Finlay’s anger at the SAC was centred on his sense of its willingness to tolerate untruth, even to propagate it under the guise of a ‘secular’, ‘liberal’ spirit of openness to multiple interpretations. This explained their complicity in the lie propagated by Fulcrum Press regarding a fake first edition, in the lies propagated by the Spectator regarding the Serpentine show, and in the lies that might come to pass were the Scotsman’s reporting on the Charlotte Square withdrawal to go unchecked. There was now a chance to prove to the Councils, and to a wider audience, the logical outcomes of that position: to prove, as Finlay put it to Duncan (23 March 1979), that “LANGUAGE USED SANS GOOD WILL, in SAC MANNER, is to be deplored and that TWO (or more) CAN PLAY THAT GAME.” The SAC postcard had requested the return of two items, specified only by (or as) names. Finlay obeyed the letter of the law by printing the phrases “Small Is Quite Beautiful” and “Even Gods Have Dwelt in Woods” on two postcards, which were placed inside several layers of packaging and finally inside two crates. These crates were presented on 14 March to the delivery drivers, who returned with them to Charlotte Square. The Objective Event was afoot:
The SAC had ten (I hear) staff/reception committee for arrival of crates (or Language Event) which was now conducted, (in my agoraphobic post-coronary slipped-disc numb-foot absence) by SAC Director. And documented later, as I anticipated, by same gentleman, (all Art Events require documentation but not all are Directed by Directors and documented by Directors supervised by lawyers…) (Finlay, letter to Ronnie Duncan, 23 March 1979)
According to the SAC’s documentation, possibly written with a legal function in mind:
When the two crates were opened at Charlotte Square, they were found to contain boxes within boxes, and within the boxes envelopes, and within the envelopes a printed card with ‘Small Is Quite Beautiful’ on one, and ‘Even Gods Have Dwelt in Woods’ and a drawing on the other. The stone reliefs were not in the crates. (Qtd. in Finlay, letter to Duncan, 23 March 1979)
The delivery driver was sent back to Little Sparta to retrieve their goods, where a row ensued resulting, Finlay stated to Duncan (23 March 1979), “in my being physically assaulted.”
Taking the assault (the details of which are not clear) as a further bargaining chip, Finlay wrote to the SAC’s lawyers demanding assurances that, in his words, “no further molestation” would be visited on him during subsequent retrieval attempts (letter to Ronnie Duncan, 23 March 1979). This request was, according to him, denied. Implicit therefore in the successful conclusion of Objective Event was a pretext for further hostilities:
‘Words as Objects’ event therefore had to be followed by another, conceived by me in middle of the night. Following morning stone reliefs left Stonypath and passed beyond bounds of Little Sparta, lashed to sledge to ride snowdrifts. X drove car, and carried 3 letters, one to SAC solicitor with names and addresses of Little Sparta’s Nominated Negotiators, Michael Schmidt, Irving Weinman – both safely outside Scotland – plus carbons for Messrs. Weinman and Schmidt. Mr X knows but I do not (what you don’t know you can’t reveal, see 007) destination of reliefs; he ’phones us on safe arrival and informs Schmidt and Weinman of whereabouts of reliefs; the letters to them are then posted and that to the SAC solicitor by Special Delivery. They write SAC Chairman announcing Hostages Held and expressing willingness to negotiate. So matters now stand… (letter to Ronnie Duncan, 23 March 1979).
We can hazard a guess that these negotiations were brokered partly in theatrical terms: to enact a clash of cultural paradigms rather than to establish real criteria for the release of the artworks, although a correspondence between Michael Schmidt and Sandy Dunbar printed in the Literary Review during 1979-80 does allude to a few mooted, and abandoned, meetings. The period of negotiation also allowed Finlay to plan and enact his final battle manoeuvre. With the assistance of his stonemason collaborators, the reliefs were physically altered: a roll-call of guilty “lollygarchs” was etched behind the original inscription of Small is Quite Beautiful, while a transformational phrase was inscribed below the titular epigraphof Even Gods Have Dwelt in Woods. In a note entitled “What A Relief”, similar in form to his “Objective Event” missive, Finlay announced that the works would be deposited in front of the Charlotte Square Gallery on Bastille Day 1979, “exactly a year after they were first offered to Lord Balfour”. Alluding to the change enacted on the reliefs, the statement concluded “EADEM MUTATA RESURGO (I rise again, transformed, but the same).”
The transformed reliefs were returned as promised – it is not clear what the SAC’s reaction was – but this was not to be the end of the intrigues involving the two works. Indeed, the final stages of the Arts Council Battle blended seamlessly into the intrigues foreshadowing Finlay’s most iconic and expertly stage-managed Battle. By the end of 1979, the Finlays had completed in spirit the process of converting a ruined cow byre on the grounds of Little Sparta into a temple (it had initially been modified into a gallery). [vi] After they were refused the tax rates offered on religious buildings by Strathclyde Regional Council, they withheld the prescribed rates in protest. On 4 February 1983 the Council sent their Sheriff’s Officer to seize items from the temple in lieu of the unpaid rates, resulting in the famous First Battle of Little Sparta, when the Sheriff’s Officer was met by a series of intricately planned parrying manoeuvres and obstacles, including a local farmer’s tractor parked across the access lane to the farmhouse. On that occasion, the Sheriff’s Officer returned emptyhanded, but works were seized from the temple during the subsequent Budget Day Raid of 15 March. In retaliation, at some point early in 1984 Finlay’s supporters retrieved the two stone reliefs which had been at the centre of the Arts Council Battle from the SAC’s Charlotte Square office (it was no longer a gallery), and further text was inscribed on them.[vii]
It is difficult to distinguish in retrospect between the transformations of 1979 and 1984, but it is likely that in advance of the Crates Event, Even Gods Have Dwelt in Woods was altered to include the phrase “EADEM MVTATA RESVRGO XIV VII”, alluding to its 14 July return, while the names now etched on the reverse of the relief perhaps date from after the 1984 Raid.[viii] As for Small Is Quite Beautiful, a rectangle of bare stone was left to frame the inscribed title phrase, with a roll-call of names etched around it between 1979 and the later period:
A BAS [DOWN WITH] LES LOLLYGARCHS/LORD BALFOUR OF B · S DUNBA/R · B LOGAN · L HOUSTON · SHRF TH/OMSON · R BREEN · P WRIGHT · PRF/ROBERTS · D HA/LL · H McCANN · J M/ORRIS · E BROWN · /PRF FLYNN · J BUCH/AN · J GERBER · MS WE/BSTER · J WATTS · C TH/OMPSON · PRF FOWL/ER · PRF JEFFARES · J MACINTOSH · J BAIN/ROBESPIERRE RULES OK! (See Alec Finlay, 258)
Familiar names can be spotted here, including the SAC’s Chairman Lord Balfour of B, its Director S Dunbar, and solicitor B Logan. The overall effect is of some technically immaculate work of French-Revolutionary graffiti, perhaps a relic from the streets of early 1790s Paris.
To what extent is the foregoing discussion concerned with art? It might seem clear that we should set the threshold between art and the more fractious aspects of biography at the point where the theatrical episodes just outlined – the Crates Event, the Sledge Event (to coin a phrase), the Bastille Day return of the reliefs, and of course the First Battle of Little Sparta – are plotted and hatched. But to what extent do the events comprising these episodes overlap with the bare ‘facts’ of what occurred? Is Finlay’s reported physical assault simply to be aestheticised as an element of the Crates Event? What about the angry return journey which the delivery drivers made to Little Sparta to attempt to retrieve the reliefs for a second time, feeling, according to Sandy Dunbar’s (admittedly biased) account in the Literary Review, that “Finlay had made fools of them”? Both are vital to the semi-spontaneous narrative arc that emerged, but both have emotional, legal, and/or economic ramifications which, while clearly small-scale, nonetheless seem to demand some analysis extending beyond the purely artistic. To subsume them entirely into the story of a ‘happening’, or a work of time-bound conceptual art, might seem to set a worrying precedent, placing their aesthetic significance over and above other scales of value, in which human lives and welfare are more explicitly at stake.
Conversely, to what extent might those objects and incidents which initially seem wholly biographical documents – say, Finlay’s letters to the Spectator – be considered art objects, or, in the case of disputes played out in person, scenes from a semi-staged theatre of combat? The language of Finlay’s letters is in places so vibrantly theatrical as to suggest some calculated degree of authorial detachment from the rage which it expresses, as if a cloak of ritualised linguistic combat were being donned. The attention apparently placed on wit, pace, and rhythm of delivery seems to confirm that impression of, if not self-satire then a kind of measured, self-aware frenzy. Finlay would have been familiar with this perhaps specifically Scottish mode of public combat from his and other poets’ newspaper battles with Hugh MacDiarmid during the early 1960s, over the latter’s aversion to new developments in Scottish literature, such as the folk revival and concrete poetry. The Scottish literature scholar Corey Gibson places such disputes – with an eye on the relationship between MacDiarmid and Hamish Henderson – in a historical trajectory rooted in the medieval tradition of the “flyting,” a form of public badinage in which rival makars would pit their skills of verbal conquest and abuse against each.[ix] If nothing else, the zeal with which Finlay took to new Battle fronts suggests that they provided some essential foil to his more explicitly ‘artistic’ activity, an enclosing framework without which he found it difficult to define the purpose of his creative labour.
In the end, the question of the ‘reality’ of the Battles is one that rests on an untenable binary. Certainly, the published ephemera and memorabilia which Finlay produced in the wake of the conflicts – the medals and monuments, icons and broadsides – foreground an abstract, aestheticised interplay of principles over any collateral scales of effect. But in encountering the Battles retrospectively we must necessarily reckon with the non-artistic dimensions of what occurred, via the reams of private correspondence and semi-publicised written documentation in which much of the story is buried. We cannot but reinscribe the human scales of Finlay’s work: consider how his ideals of Truth and Beauty fared on exposure to the complexity of lived life. Who was inspired, who pressed into combat, who traumatised (including the artist himself) by this process? The Battles were Art. The Battles were Real. The truth is secular.
NB All archived materials cited are stored with the Ian Hamilton Finlay Papers 1948-1992 (890144), Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.
Abrioux, Yves, ed. Ian Hamilton Finlay: A Visual Primer, second edition. Reaktion: 1992.
Calder, Angus. “The Wars of Ian Hamilton Finlay.” In Alec Finlay, ed., Ian Hamilton Finlay, special issue of Chapman 78-79, 1994, pp.175-83
Gibson Corey. “The Folkniks in the Kailyard: Hamish Henderson and the ‘Folk-song Flyting.” In Eleanor Bell and Linda Gun, eds., The Scottish Sixties: Reading, Rebellion, Revolution? Rodopi: 2013, pp.209-25.
Gibson, Patrick. Letter to Ian Hamilton Finlay, 10 August 1976. Series 1 box 3, folder 4.
Dunbar, Sandy. Letter. The Literary Review 27, 17-30 October 1980, p34.
Finlay, Alec, ed. Wood Notes Wild: Essays on the Poetry and Art of Ian Hamilton Finlay. Polygon: 1995.
Finlay, Ian Hamilton. Letter to Lord Balfour, 1 August 1978. Series 3, box 7, folder 2.
—. Letter to Laurie and Thomas A. Clark, 14 February 1983. Series 1, box 4, folder 3.
—. Letter to Thomas A. Clark, 5 November 1979. Series 1, box, folder 6.
—. Letter to Ronnie Duncan, 23 March 1979. Series 1, box 3, folder 5.
—. Letter to John McEwan. 7 June 1978. Series 3, box 7, folder 3.
—. Letter to David Fergus, 6 July 1978. Series 3, box 7, folder 3.
—. Letter to the Press Council, 13 June 1978. Series 3, box 7, folder 3.
—. Letter to the Press Council, 30 June 1978. Series 3, box 7, folder 3.
—. Letter to Roy Shaw, 31 July 1978. Series 3, box 7, folder 2.
—. Letter to Philip Wright, 1 August 1978. Series 3, box 7, folder 2.
—. “What a Relief” [typescript, 1979]. Series 3, box 7, folder 2.
—. “Words as Objects, Objects as Words” [typescript, 1979]. Series 3, box 7, folder 2.
Inness, Sue. “Man of Sparta.” The Scotsman Magazine, volume 9 number 3, 1988, reprinted in Alec Finlay, Wood Notes Wild, pp.9-15.
McEwen, John. “Artyfacts.” The Spectator, 8 October 1977, p28.
“The Press Council” [uncredited]. The Spectator, 17 June 1978, p15.
Allen. “Brush with the Art Establishment.” The
Scotsman, 19 June 1978.
—. “Edition Destroyed.” The
Scotsman, 27 November 19
[i] This and all other quotes from Finlay’s unpublished correspondence and ephemera appear by kind permission of the Wild Hawthorn Press, with acknowledgements to the Getty Research Institute, where they were consulted during 2015. I would like to offer my sincere thanks to Pia Simig, Thomas A. Clark, Ronnie Duncan, and particularly Alistair Peebles, for their assistance with editing and securing permissions for this article.
[ii] This was the First Battle of Little Sparta, 4 February 1983, returned to briefly below. The French Revolution-era paintings and drawings of Jacques-Louis David often comprise elaborate tableaux of battles or political incidents, with protagonists depicted in states of heightened emotional zeal.
[iii] See for example Sue Inness’s 1988 article “Man of Sparta”: “[h]e is direct but also unexpectedly diffident,…friendly and courteous and self-questioning” (9). The difference between the impressions that Finlay was capable of conveying in correspondence and in person – the former very much favoured as a source in the account that follows – may partly reflect the cathartic function that letter-writing often seemed to assume for Finlay, whereby emotions were expunged in a context removed from direct personal interaction.
[iv] It is not clear whether this is the letter of ‘public apology’ by the Arts Council referred to in several of Finlay’s letters.
[v] This adjudication is quoted in a letter from Finlay to the Press Council, 13 June 1978. It was issued as a press release on 15 June.
[vi] See Finlay’s letter to Tom Clark, 5 November 1979: “[w]e…have told Strathclyde Region that our gallery is a Temple and liable to Temple tax. – I feel that this at least takes us outwith the Scottish Arts Council.” Alterations to the façade of the temple such as the inscription to Apollo were added over the next couple of years.
[vii] The following account assumes these inscriptions date from 1984, the year of the Charlotte Square Raid.
[ix] But consider too Angus Calder’s note of caution on applying this reading to Finlay’s Battles: “it is unhelpful to set [the Battles] in the flyting tradition, as revived by MacDiarmid and others from the days of Dunbar and Montgomerie. Flyting involves competitive displays of feigned contempt. In a game of two players, who should be well-matched, both use the same weapons. The SAC and Strathclyde Regional Council could hardly have replied to Finlay’s campaign with a counter-shower of postcards and their own reciprocating street theatre.” Thanks to Alistair Peebles for directing me towards this quote.