One of Britain’s foremost artists, Barry Flanagan (1941–2009) revolutionised the language of sculpture over the course of a five decade-long career. Best known for his monumental bronze hares, which he initiated in 1979, Flanagan produced a prolific oeuvre encompassing not only three-dimensional form, but also works on paper, film, and even performance art. Flanagan committed himself to exploring the possibilities of material – from bronze and sand, to rope, cloth, and clay.
Bridging the everyday and the fantastical, Flanagan’s bronze hares have been exhibited in outdoor spaces worldwide: they spring into life, prompting considerations of the animal’s significance as a symbol of immortality. Flanagan’s lesser known works, including his soft sculptures, minimal installations, drawings, and video art, further testify to his engagement with materiality and nature. For the 1969 film a hole in the sea, Flanagan buried a hollow cylinder in the sand of a beach in the Netherlands, recording the hole’s gradual disappearance with the changing tide of the North Sea. Using raw material as the foundation of an extraordinary visual lexicon, such shape-shifting works open up a multitude of possibilities.
'For his ability to combine the impossible in relation to the natural, Flanagan has been described as a shaman. The shaman acts as mediator between the spiritual and human worlds and has an ability to take on animal characteristics in order to cross between these worlds. Some people might think Flanagan bronzes are exclusively of hares because perhaps these sculptures have had the most exposure. There are in fact many animals beside the hare in Flanagan’s oeuvre. From the muscular cougar, and the elephant and horse to the domesticity of pets, to butterflies, moths, insects, amphibians and birds all these creatures are vehicles to explore material qualities, psychological states and different characteristics of our co-inhabitants on the globe as well as to reflect upon the human condition.
For Flanagan, sculpture was as much sound, light, film and performance as it was bronze and carving. He consistently exposed processes in every medium he used throughout his career. He included direct object casts in bronze sculptures and allowed parts of the armature to show through strips of clay or plaster, thereby recording and revealing the processes of its making. It is aptly contradictory then, that the fleeting hare should become a monument to time and duration, channelling the quixotic, mysterious propositions implicit in the early work.'
J. Melvin, ‘Barry Flanagan: An Introduction to one of Britain’s Most Inventive Sculptors’, Von Bartha, June 2020
Image: Nijinski Hare, 1985, bronze, 261.6 x 160 x 121.9 cm.; 103 x 63 x 48 in., edition of 5, plus 3 AC, photo: The Estate of Barry Flanagan, courtesy of Plubronze