Barry Flanagan

Year and place of birth: 1941, Prestatyn, United Kingdom Date of death: 2009 , Ibiza, Spain

Barry Flanagan briefly studied architecture and sculpture between 1957 and 1958. After a break of a few years and having taken evening classes with the British abstract sculptor Anthony Caro, he continued his artistic studies in London. Together with fellow students Richard Long, Gilbert & George and Bruce McLean, Flanagan rebelled against the prevailing, traditional views on sculpture. In contrast to abstract metal sculptures, which were then the norm, they developed an innovative of vision of what sculpture could be. During his first solo exhibition in 1966 in London, Flanagan made his mark with sculptures in unconventional ‘soft’ materials such as linen, rope and sand. The sculptures were organic, elementary in form and seemed timeless. In this period, Flanagan’s work displayed similarities to that of Carl Andre, Robert Smithson and Eva Hesse. His international career took off quickly. He was invited to exhibit at the controversial exhibition ‘When Attitudes Become Form’ (1969, Kunsthalle Bern), amongst others.

In the second half of the 1960s, Flanagan focused on happenings, ‘dematerialised’ art and media. He exerted huge influence on the then-explosive development of avant-garde film. At around the same time, the artist became fascinated by the ideas of Alfred Jarry, the author of the famous play ‘Ubu Roi’ (1896). His approach to sculpture became increasingly playful and more humorous. In an almost anarchistic way, Flanagan allowed materials to find their own form: “One merely causes things to reveal themselves to the sculptural awareness”. In the 1970s, the artist began to create freestanding sculptures in more durable materials such as stone, metal and bronze. He turned his back on theoretical artistic preoccupations and opted resolutely for sculptures with a direct visual and artisanal impact. In 1979, he created his first sculpture of a leaping hare. This became one of his most recognisable motifs. The horse, an archetype of classical sculpture, as well as dogs and elephants, also emerged in his oeuvre. In the years since, the widespread success of Flanagan’s accessible, figurative animal sculptures has seen the innovative character of his early work consigned to oblivion.

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