His work as often been seen as radical, straying away from norms in the field at the time. His soft sculpture created in 1965, dubbed ‘Aaing J Gni Aa’, was among these independent pieces that began to turn heads. Pieces such as this changed ideas about the language of sculpture. The whimsical nature of Flanagan’s method, which lets materials to take on their own sculptural form, whether they are sand, rope, stone, sheet metal, fabric, clay, or bronze, shows his lifelong interest in pataphysics.
The dynamic, frequently colossal bronze hares by Flanagan that come to life and were originally displayed in the early 1980s are possibly his most well-known works. To shape clay into animal forms, such as hares, elephants, dogs, and horses, the horse being an exemplar of classical sculpture, Flanagan combines the commonplace, the magical, and the imaginary. Barry would describe the surreal sight of a hare running on the Sussex Downs when questioned about the use of the hare motif. This incident inspired him to create the first Leaping Hare sculpture in 1979. The hare stood for life to the Egyptians and is featured in Chinese mythology as a jade figure, representing immortality.
He had previously cast work in the foundry at Central School of Art with Henry Abercrombie in 1969. His return to bronze with the hare was part of his exploration into various media, from the sand, rope, and cloth pieces that focused on composition and questioned preconceived notions of what sculpture should be, challenging traditional materials. ‘A Nose in Repose’ (1977), which is in the collection of the Tate Gallery, is one of several of his paintings with amusing titles. He participated in occurrences and dematerialized practises, and in 1980 he worked with the Marjorie Strider dance group after first collaborating with Yoko Ono in 1966.
Flanagan was profoundly affected by the 1979 exhibit The Horses of San Marco at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Henry Abercrombie outlined the exhibition’s influence on Flanagan’s philosophy and sculpture-making process, pointing out how the ancient horses’ raw physicality and atmosphere of majesty generated. The sculptures’ antiquity revealed both man’s relationship with animals and his desire to represent them. Essays on historical casting techniques, gilding in the Greek and Roman eras, and an examination of the foundry processes used to cast the horses of San Marco were included in the catalogue. The diverse patinas and gilding also supplied significant material to examine the characteristics of bronze.
At the 1982 Venice Biennale, Flanagan represented Great Britain. His art was the subject of a significant retrospective that began in 1993 at the Fundacion “La Caixa” in Madrid and travelled to the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Nantes in 1994. Additionally, Flanagan’s bronze hares have been displayed in a variety of outdoor locations, most notably Grant Park in Chicago in 1996 and Park Avenue in New York in the years 1995 to 1996. He held a solo exhibition in 1999 at the Galerie Xavier Hufkens in Brussels, which was followed by a show at the Tate in Liverpool the year after. The Kunsthalle Recklinghausen in Germany hosted a significant exhibition of his work in 2002, which then travelled to the Musee d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain in Nice.
In 2000, Flanagan became an Irish Citizen and resided in Dublin before he died in 2009. Ten enormous bronze sculptures were set along O’Connell Street and in Parnell Square as part of a major retrospective of his work displayed in 2006 at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin in collaboration with Dublin City Art Gallery. His work is included in numerous public collections across the world, including those at the Tate in London, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and the MoMA in New York and Tokyo. Barry Flanagan’s Early Works, 1965–1982, were on display at Tate in 2011.
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