As part of a 1960s generation reacting to the muscular, weld-forward geometric abstraction of Sir Anthony Caro, Flanagan and his fellow students at St. Martin's School of Art followed tutor John Latham in creating works that explored a post-war world. Flanagan's work of the 60s and 70s have been seen as Process Art, Arte Povera or Anti-Form, for the artist's use of immaterial material, full of visual and verbal puns, with witty allusions to the relativity of the material world. Flanagan's installations included light, natural and projected, sand, sticks; bags of rubble; and other non-precious, non-art materials.
So it was with a great deal of surprise when Flanagan, in 1978-79, created his first drawing of a hare, inspired by a live one but triggered by a dead one, an image that appeared in his very tangible sculpture for the next three decades.
Cultures from around the globe have ascribed conflicting attributes to the hare in their myths, literature and art: soulful and mischievous, pure and profligate. German artist Josef Beuys used a hare as a personal stand-in based on his near-death experience as a German pilot during World War II. British writer Lewis Carroll used the hare as Alice's guide in Wonderland. The Wamer Brothers invented a cartoon bunny with an attitude, ushering in a sense of the absurd as America entered into a war that made them grow up. Flanagan's hare is a proxy for humans-but also for the unseen forces of the natural world.
In Large Boxing Hare on Anvil, just five years into Flanagan's focus on the hare, we see an awkwardly upright rabbit walking as if in a trance, its' arms thrust outward towards a lost battle. The heavily worked metal of the figure, which reveals the hand of the artist, is contrasted against the solidity of the anvil. The hare too represents the fact and idea of a line in space, the animals' slender profile slipping in and out of focus as we circle the piece.
Animate, inanimate, human-made, natural, there are overt and subtle contrasts in this work that embody Flanagan's life-long adventure in representing the world.
Barry Flanagan was born in Prestatyn, North Wales, United Kingdom, in 1941, and died in Santa Eularia Des Riu, Spain, where he had lived since 1987, in 2009. He was known for his restless energy, moving between Amsterdam, Barcelona, Dublin and New York throughout his career. Flanagan studied architecture and sculpture at the Birmingham College of art for two years, then graduated from St. Martin's School of Art in London from 1964-66.
Since his first show in 1966, Flanagan has been the subject of one-person exhibitions in museums and galleries around the globe, including: the Tate Britain, London; Chatsworth House, Chesterfield, United Kingdom; Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent, Belgium, Kunstausstellung der Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen, Germany; Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain, Nice; Tate Gallery, Liverpool; Centre Cultural Teda Sala, Barcelona; Fundación 'la Caixa', Madrid; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes, France; Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, United Kingdom; Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade; Whitechapel Gallery, London; Mostyn Art Gallery, Llandudno, Wales; Institute of Contemporary Art, London; Centro de Arte y Communicacion, Buenos Aires; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, among others. Flanagan represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1982.
His work has been included in museum group shows in Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Dubai, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom, the United States and Wales. He has had one-person gallery shows in: Amsterdam; Basel, Switzerland; Brussels, Chicago; Cologne, Germany, Dublin; Düsseldorf, Germany, Leeds, United Kingdom; Montreal, New York, Paris; Stockholm, Salzburg, Austria; Sydney, Australia,
His works have been collected by the following institutions: the Art Institute of Chicago; Arts Council Collection, Hayward Gallery, London; Baltimore Museum of Art; British Council, London, Essl Museum, Vienna; R.F.A.C. Rhône-Alpes, Lyon; Fuchi City, Tokyo; Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, Dublin; Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Krefeld, Germany; Kunsthaus, Zürich, Switzerland; Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas, Venezuela; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum Voor Hedendaagse Kunst, Belgium; Nagaoka Museum, Tokyo; National Gallery of Art, Washington; National Museums and Galleries of Wales, Cardiff, Osaka City Museum of Modern Art, Japan; Rijksmuseum Kröller Müller, Otterlo, The Netherlands, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Setagaya Museum, Tokyo; Sinstra Museum of Modern Art, Portugal; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Tate, London; Ulster Museum, Belfast; Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, among others.