Until the 2nd of January, Tate Britain is showing a retrospective of Barry Flanagan’s early works. Best known for his leaping hare pieces, Flanagan studied at St Martin’s School of Art from 1964 -66, and the exhibition covers his progress from 1965 -1982. Flanagan was a pioneer – as one of the first scultptors to use unconventioal matierals such as sand, sticks, and hessian rags, he created controversy and paved the way for a new generation of sculptors who would look for the physical and emotive qualities in ungalmorous materials, including waste materials.
“Time and again, we see Flanagan bringing the best out of his unpromising materials, shedding new light on traditional sculptural concerns such as weight and matter, surface and space.”
– Evening Standard
As Flanagan’s career progressed, he began to work increasingly in the far more traditional medium of bronze. These bronzes include depictions of elephants, cougars and horses, as well as hares. These sculptures seem to have fairy-tale like qualities; they echo human feelings, but never in a sentimental or truley anthrompommorphsied way. Flanagan’s particular focus on hares began when he saw a hare in a butcher’s and was struck by its appearance. He said that hares are
“rich and expressive,” with “the conventions of the cartoon and the investment of human attributes into the animal world”, both of which are “very well practised devices in literature and film… If you consider what conveys situation and meaning and feeling in a human figure, the range of expression is, in fact, far more limited than the device of investing an animal – a hare especially – with the expressive attributes of a human being. The ears, for instance, are really able to convey far more than a squint in an eye of a figure or a grimace on the face of a model.”
I personally find Flanagan’s work most interesting when considered side-by-side with his interesting bohemian character and lifestyle. He was a true and uncontrived eccentric, who regularly wore tweed suits paired with sandals, regardless of the weather, and late in his life, played out an itinerant existence in a vintage camper van, with his partner Jessica Sturges.
Barry Flanagan: Early Works 1965-1982 is at Tate Britain until 2nd January. Booking is advised.