Ian Hamilton Finlay rose to prominence in the 1960s as one of the leaders of the concrete poetry movement and went on to become one of the most internationally active Scottish artists of the twentieth century. He explored his ideas in many different forms working with collaborators to create stone sculptures, inscriptions on paper and wood, books and pamphlets, and two tapestries, woven with Edinburgh’s Dovecot Studios. The project for which he is most well-known is Little Sparta – a lifelong creation through which he transformed an exposed corner of Lanarkshire moor into a verdant, classically-inspired garden that fused together many aspects of his artistic ideas, and in particular his interest in man’s relationship to nature.
The drawing, screenprint and tapestry BCK35 (PROEM) illustrate Finlay’s typically inter-disciplinary and collaborative way of working. The original concept was prompted by the classification numbers of fishing boats (in this case BCK signifying Buckie in the Moray Firth) leading to distilled, imaginative associations typical of concrete poetry: here in the visual/linguistic pun of PROEM (poem/prow).
The work was first realised as a printed card with Ron Costley. Costley was a regular collaborator and friend – a distinguished typographer who worked with leading publishers such as Chatto and Windus and Faber and was also a keen amateur gardener. The tapestry was the second woven with Dovecot, following an earlier collaboration on Green Waves commissioned for the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh. Douglas Grierson, former Head Weaver of the studios, remembered, “both works were given the names
of fishing boats that had gone down at sea. The script that he used had to be woven with the utmost care, keeping very fine, precise edges.”