Barry Flanagan


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British sculptor, draughtsman, and printmaker, born in Prestatyn, Wales. He studied at various art schools, principally St Martin's School of Art, London, 1964–6, his main teacher there being Phillip King. His early practice was very much part of the questioning of the nature of sculpture taking place at St Martin's. In 1963 he had written to Anthony Caro: ‘I might claim to be a sculptor and do everything but sculpture.’ He was one of those who had assisted John Latham in the chewing-up of Clement Greenberg's Art and Culture. In 1965 he began making sculptures in unusual non-rigid materials which tended to generate their own forms. Aaing j gni aa (1965, Tate) is made from sewn-up shapes filled with plaster. The final form is determined by factors outside the artist's control. In 1966 he exhibited a sculpture made from a cone of sand from which four handfuls had been scooped out. This work has to be remade every time it is shown. Other pieces involved rope and hessian sacks filled with sand. These paralleled the development in mainland Europe of Arte Povera and the use of soft materials by Robert Morris and Eva Hesse. He was included in the 1969 exhibition ‘When Attitudes Become Form’, an early manifestation of Conceptual art. From 1973, Flanagan concentrated on more traditional materials, notably stone and bronze. However, as Graham Beal suggests, ‘he brought to carving the sense of paradox, verging on ambivalence, that characterizes his earlier work’. In The Road to Altissimo (1973) Beal points out that one side of the marble block is left flat as it was cut by the masons. The other sides demonstrate different ways of attacking the material with punches and chisels and invoke fossil traces. In other works in stone Flanagan left the actual carving to Italian craftsmen, providing them with clay models, so turning his back on the modernist practice of direct carving. From the early 1980s he made bronze figures of animals, especially hares, which are typically shown leaping, prancing, or boxing. Frances Spalding (British Art Since 1900, 1986) writes: ‘These works had a joyous élan and instant appeal, the hares perhaps symbolizing the imaginative agility of the artist's mind.’ These have become his best-known works with a wider public and their popularity has rather obscured his innovatory work of the 1960s and 1970s. In 1982 he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale.

Further Reading

G. Beal, ‘Barry Flanagan: “Twice as Hard in a Negative Way”’ in T Neff (ed.), A Quiet Revolution: British Sculpture Since 1965 (1985)

Subjects: Art.

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