Poet, creative writer, conceptual artist and sculptor. Born in Nassau in the Bahamas of Scottish parents, the family soon returned to Glasgow, where Finlay was educated. His grandfather had worked at Hopetoun House and this classical mansion, with its formal gardens, proved an inspiration for Finlay. At the outbreak of the Second World War, aged 13, his education ended when he was evacuated to Orkney. He was to return to Glasgow to spend a year at the School of Art before being called-up for military service in 1942. Following the war, Finlay returned to Orkney to work as a shepherd before beginning to write. He published collections include The Sea Bed and Other Stories (1958) and The Dancers Inherit the Party (1960), with some of his work being broadcast by the BBC.
Finlay became known for concrete poetry, where the layout of the words contributes to the overall artistic form, publishing his first collection, Rapel, in 1963. Other collections of poems followed, including Tea-Leaves and Fishes (1966), Canal Game (1967) and Honey by the Water (1973). He went on to carve some of his poems into stone sculptures which he set alongside Greco-Roman classical architectural fragments in the natural surroundings of his garden, known as Little Sparta, at Stonypath (near Dunsyre, South Lanarkshire). His severe agoraphobia left him confined to Little Sparta for more than twenty years. His battles with authority seem anachronistic for a committed pacifist; he fought with the local authority over taxation, with the Scottish Arts Council over their policies and with the French Government over a commission withdrawn following press allegations of facist his sympathies.
Finlay was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1985 and awarded a CBE in 2002. His prodigious output in a vast range of media has been widely exhibited, including at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the Tate Gallery.
He died in Edinburgh.