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Little Sparta

Eileen Hogan

The inspiration for this series of paintings and drawings, made between 1998 and 2013, has been Ian Hamilton Finlay’s garden, Little Sparta, near Dunsyre in Scotland. Ian and his wife Sue, began the garden in 1966, carving it out of the Pentland Hills. It is a poet’s creation, in which language, sculpture and historical allusion interweave with the landscape and it’s planting.

When I visited the garden for the first time in 1997 I never expected that it would become my subject matter for fifteen years. I have usually taken my source material from within London, where I was born. I am not a landscape painter and although green spaces have often been my subject matter, they have usually been bounded by architecture. In recent years, Bryanston, Portman, Manchester and Montagu square gardens have been the sites of my Four Squares series. I gained access to the private spaces, painting from the inside rather than outside looking in. The wildness of the hills and farmland surrounding Little Sparta could hardly contrast more with those urban backdrops, but the same notion of enclosure underlay my impulse to paint there.

Ian allowed me to paint wherever and whenever I wanted.  His presence seeped in to several of my paintings, as did an unexpected trip to the Coffee Spot in nearby Biggar, where I drew him in the midst of the café’s more conventional clientele, an occasion which led to a series of painted portrait heads.

Ian died in 2006 but I have kept returning to the garden, witnessing different seasons and dramatically different weathers, gradually, absorbing its complexity.  The goose hut and Lochan Eck have been the focus of my most recent work, but the main subjects have been the trio of white beehives in the section of the garden known as the English Parkland. The structures echo past concerns in my work, when I have repeatedly been drawn to the play of light dappling white surfaces in green surroundings.


Eileen Hogan studied at Camberwell College of Arts, and the Royal College of Art. She is a Professor in the Graduate School at CCW (Camberwell, Wimbledon and Chelsea Art Schools), University of the Arts London.

The Little Sparta series, including paintings, drawings, note books, photographs and film, has been exhibited at Roche Court, Wiltshire, the Fleming Collection London, the Discovery Centre, Luton and the Yale Center for British Art, USA. Publications include include Bountiful UL 238, Sweet Promise FH172, Golden gain FR59. Paintings and Drawings by Eileen Hogan, published by The Fleming Wyfold Foundation. See more here.