Having worked with Finlay for 20 years before his death in 2006, at the age of 80, she simply follows his rules. No matter that neither artist nor curator had set foot in the gallery prior to opening night. Finlay long ago told Simig what to do and, more importantly, what not to do.
Perhaps it's this precision concerning the deployment of his work, as much as its creation, that allows such a strong sense of the man to permeate the halls of the gallery, though he's been dead some eight years.
In the 1960s, he began experimenting with concrete poetry – in which the typographical arrangement of the words is as crucial to conveying meaning as the words themselves. It was a form Finlay defined not as visual, but as silent poetry.
Upon entering this show, the artist's
The wall painting "Mare Terra" (sea earth) covers the large expanse of wall facing the gallery entrance. The Latin words – "mare" inscribed in blue, "terra" in yellow – are painted next to two bisecting lines in the same colors.
To the left of this cross, which resembles a compass rose, a series of vertical yellow lines are partially undercut by another series of horizontal blue ones. Each varies slightly in length, allowing Finlay to evoke the organic movement of waves in the perfect rigidity of his grid.
It was from this piece – which successfully unites so many of Finlay's motifs – that gallerist AndrÉe Sfeir-Semler and Simig decided to take the name for this show. It seemed fitting, Simig explains, given
To the right of the entrance lie further examples of Finlay's poetry. Among them is a tapestry bearing the famous "Star/Steer," and the beautiful "Ring of Waves," inscribed in gold on a sheet of glass.
"ring of waves
row of nets
string of lights
row of fish
ring of nets
row of roofs
string of fish
ring of light."
In these 24 words, Finlay evokes a cyclical story, a fisherman's dawn 'til dusk, weaving his own net, upon which viewers can endlessly embroider variations of the tale.
Enter the next room, and Simig begins to introduce darker, more complex themes.
Organized in collaboration with the Estate of
Finley frequently returned to words over the decades, exploring how their effect was altered by each new material.
Sfeir-Semler, who has represented Finlay at her
"Terra Mare" is not an easy show to digest.
Rooted as it is in a love of 18th-century neo-classicism (a whitewashed, "purist" take on the garish paint and pagan chaos of the Greeks and Romans), an appreciation of natural beauty and a love of fishing boats and the sea, Finlay's work pits these elements against the bleaker topics of war – and its relationship to peace – and the pitfalls of the revolutionary spirit.
A fixation on the French Revolution makes itself known in the second room, where Finlay's lithograph after
Based on sculptures by Italian baroque sculptor and architect
To the left is an account of the chase -- Apollo driven by love, Daphne by fear. To the right, Finlay has altered the words of the text to reflect the dangers of the revolutionary desire for a virtuous republic when they spiral out of control, the pursuer losing sight of his ideals in the rigor of the struggle.
The selection of work on show in "Terra Mare" aims to highlight Finlay's interests in the knife-edge relationship between nature and culture, terror and virtue. Works like this lend themselves to regional readings. Yet Finlay's ability to spot beauty in the everyday also shines through in pieces like "Glade/Grove," two stone markers inscribed with the definition of the words, and his series of silkscreen prints capturing the knot patterns on the sails of local fishing boats.
Drawing attention to vanishing ways of life and environmental destruction, these works retain an intrinsically British flavor while provoking broader reflection.
Finlay's work, which links so strongly to nature, is here displayed in an indoor setting, the antithesis of the natural surroundings that frame his famous garden of sculptural poems, "Little Sparta."
Located at a farm called Stonypath, close to
With its focus on the French Revolution, the clash of classicism and modernism and the legacy of the First and Second World Wars, Finlay's work may sound bleak. The exhibition is anything but, mitigated by the artist's subtle sense of humor and the compelling simplicity of his designs, deployed with understated balance in rooms that encourage reflection.
Some knowledge of classical history, the world wars and the French Revolution will aid in ingesting the concepts behind Finlay's work, but it's by no means a necessity.
It would be easy to spend hours fretting over how to decipher the artist's intent, how to reconcile his peaceful, pastoral celebrations of nature with the darkness of his war-themed works.
The enduring impression of "
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