Mary Gladstone in Conversation with Richard Demarco CBE
23rd Nov 11am-1-30pm, Demarco Gallery Space, Summerhall
This statement by Richard Demarco covers the nature of the discussion which he intends to have with Mary Gladstone on Saturday 23rd November from 11 till 1.30 in the Demarco Gallery space in which Mary Gladstone's work is being exhibited within the Demarco Archive Wing of Robert McDowell's Summerhall Art Centre. This email is in the form of an invitation so an RSVP should be made to Fernanda Zei, the Curator of Mary Gladstone's Exhibition.
Ian Hamilton Finlay almost singlehandedly introduced the genre of 'concrete poetry' into the history of modern art in Scotland but I have no doubt that he was never part of the Scottish Art world. He was committed to the history of ideas and as a result we have a large scale work of art with a world-wide reputation known as 'Little Sparta', unique in its physical reality wedded to the seasonal cycle of Mother Nature; this is primarily a Philosopher's garden. This 'gesamtkunstwerk' resulted from the remarkable sustained collaborative effort over many years made by Ian Hamilton Finlay and by his partner Sue Finlay. Indeed, her role was of prime importance, not only as a gardener but as a soul-mate.
Mary Gladstone is a cousin of Sue Finlay. It should never be forgotten that long before she met Ian Hamilton Finlay, Sue Finlay was part of a long-established land-owning family. This was the Macdonald-Lockhart family and one of their farming properties was located just over 30 miles south of Edinburgh in the Lanarkshire hills. It was known as Stonypath Farm. It was as such that I first experienced this bleak, windswept remote hill-scape and the most unlikely extension of the international art world to be likened, in my mind, to such nodal points on the international art map as Brancusi's Tirju-jiu in Romania and Giuliano Gori's Tuscan farm-scape La Fattoria di Celle.
I first learned of Ian Hamilton Finlay's presence in Edinburgh in the early 60s through Peter McGinn. He and I were at Edinburgh College of Art together as students in the early 50s. He gravitated towards Ian's domain in Edinburgh's Fettes Row and, in fact, as a talented artist proved invaluable in the creation of Ian Hamilton Finlay's 'Little Hawthorn Press'. In 1964 I first met Sue Finlay when she became part of the team of young Edinburgh students who made possible an extension, in a disused Bank of Scotland building in Edinburgh's George Street, of the Traverse Theatre Club Gallery during the three week period of the Edinburgh Festival.
Sadly I must face the fact that Mary Gladstone's exhibition in the Demarco Wing of Robert McDowell's Summerhall Art Centre must come to a close. It well deserves to be toured beyond Edinburgh and, indeed, beyond Scotland. It has provided me with much needed food for thought as I endeavour to place Mary Gladstone as one of the most important artists firmly established in the history of the Demarco Archive. She has managed to add a new dimension to the concept of 'concrete poetry' by choosing to make her work through the long-established medium of embroidery. Ian Hamilton Finlay made me realise the importance of the embroiderer's art when he invited me to collaborate with him in creating one of his best known art works in the form of a print entitled 'The Little Seamstress'. This depicts a little fishing boat sailing across a calm sea leaving, in its wake, the embroidered sea's surface. I was privileged to be commissioned by Ian Hamilton Finlay to make works which revealed our common love of fishing boats, harbours and their gear and tackle.
'Little Sparta' came into being against heavy odds and it remains firmly established, well outside the safe, constrained boundaries defined by museums and galleries, places where you normally find the secure 'comfort zone' that, sadly, artists are offered in a world dominated by market forces and therefore associated with leisure activities, tourism and entertainment. It is probably only a rumour that Ian Hamilton Finlay died in 2006. His life-force continues, given a new poetic dimension by the long-term friendship, strengthened by strong familial bonds, enjoyed by Mary Gladstone. This provides positive proof that serious and enduring art originates in the friendship based on shared ideals, hopes and aspirations among artists and therefore Mary Gladstone's exhibition is quite simply an expression of a particular friendship identified with a family that managed to live their domestic life, always imperilled, at a distance from modern art bureaucracy which challenges artistic freedom.
Mary Gladstone makes her art at a safe distance from an urban landscape. She has chosen to live in a sea-girt village marking the southernmost point of Dumfries and Galloway within sight of the coastline of Ulster. Like Ian Hamilton Finlay, she has lived her life as a wordsmith and a maker of art expressing a poetic view of life.