Barry Flanagan (b.1941, Prestatyn, Wales; d.2009, Ibiza) is one of Britain’s most significant sculptors, and also one of its most loved. Having studied architecture at Birmingham College of Art and Crafts and, after spells at different colleges, Flanagan was offered a place on the Vocational Diploma in Sculpture at St. Martin’s School of Art, London in 1964. After graduating in 1966, Flanagan went on to teach at St. Martin’s as well as at the Central School of Arts and Crafts between 1967 and 1971. In 1991 he was elected to the Royal Academy, and he received the OBE.
From the outset, Flanagan’s work was perceived as radical and independent. He revolutionised sculptural material when in 1965, while still a student, he showed the soft sculpture ‘aaing j gni aa’ (1965) [bought by the Tate Gallery in 1969] at Better Books, Charing Cross Road, which changed ideas about the language of sculpture forever. Flanagan was interested in ‘pataphysics’ – Alfred Jarry’s ‘science of imaginary solutions’ – an ethos evident in his playful approach, which allows materials to find their own sculptural form, whether sand or rope, stone, sheet metal, cloth, clay or bronze. He was included in the exhibition, ‘Between Poetry and Painting’ at the ICA (also in 1965) and contributed a finger poem, one of many examples of concrete poetry in the exhibition. His first solo exhibition was held at the Rowan Gallery, London in 1966. His first solo exhibition at Waddington Galleries, London was held in 1980.
It is with frequent warmth and wit that animals of all sorts populate Flanagan’s oeuvre; hares, elephants, dogs and horses, moulded first in clay and then cast into bronze, fuse the everyday, the imaginary and the fantastical. Within this menagerie, Flanagan is perhaps best known for his dynamic and often monumental bronze hares, which spring into life as one of his most important characters and were first exhibited in the early eighties. Presented in all manner of poses in a variety of sizes and combinations; among bronzes made over 30 years, one can find hares boxing, dancing, leaping and philosophising, all a comment on the archetype of classical sculpture.
When asked about his hare motif, Flanagan would describe the magical experience of seeing a hare running on the Sussex Downs. This event prompted his first ‘Leaping Hare’ sculpture, conceived in 1979. For the Egyptians, the hare represented life. In Chinese mythology, the hare is the inhabitant of the moon and the symbol of immortality. In addition to the nexus of mythological meanings attributed to hares, it was, in the end, the hare’s anthropomorphic potential that held the most fascination for Flanagan; it came to stand as a surrogate human figure and a metaphor for the artist’s own elusive character. Overall, Flanagan found something deliciously contradictory in taking an elusive creature associated with speed and transience and casting it in bronze, a weighty material that implies permanence and solidity.
Flanagan’s return to bronze (he had previously cast work in the foundry at Central School of Art with Henry Abercrombie in 1969) was a continuation of his exploration into different media; from the early sand, rope and cloth pieces, which focused on composition, to the ceramic, stone, marble and sheet metal sculptures of the seventies. He was also involved in happenings and dematerialised practices. In 1966 he collaborated with Yoko Ono and in 1980 with the Marjorie Strider dance company. Like his contemporaries from St. Martin’s School of Art – Richard Long, Gilbert & George and Bruce McLean – Flanagan experimented with film; his film ‘A hole in the Sea’ (1969) was included in Land Art, Gerry Schum’s seminal Fernseh-Galerie film.
The 1979 exhibition ‘The Horses of San Marco’ at the Royal Academy of Arts, London made a deep impression on Flanagan. Abercrombie described the exhibition’s impact on Flanagan’s thinking and approach to sculpture, where the sheer tactile physicality of the ancient modelled horses created an aura and majesty. The varied patinas and gilding also provided substantial material to investigate the properties of bronze. As a result, Flanagan imbued each of his bronze horse sculptures with a distinctly different character, for instance the beautiful majestic and powerful ‘Horse’ (1983) at Jesus College, Cambridge to the gentle diffidence of ‘Field Day’ (1986), also known as the ‘Korus Horse’ in San Eulalia, Ibiza and the mysterious, mythological qualities of the ‘Unicorn and Oak Tree’ (1991).
Flanagan represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1982. A major retrospective of his work was held at the Fundación ‘La Caixa’ Madrid (1993), touring to the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes (1994). Flanagan’s bronze hares have also been exhibited in many outdoor spaces, including on Park Avenue in New York (1995–6) and at Grant Park, Chicago (1996). In 1999, he had a solo exhibition at Galerie Xavier Hufkens in Brussels, followed by an exhibition at Tate, Liverpool (2000). In 2002, a major exhibition of his work was shown at the Kunsthalle Recklinghausen, Germany, touring to the Musee d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain, Nice. In 2006, the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin held a major retrospective of his work, in association with Dublin City Art Gallery The Hugh Lane, which included ten large-scale bronzes installed along O’Connell Street and Parnell Square. Recent major exhibitions include Beyond Limits at Chatsworth House, Derbyshire (2012); Barry Flanagan Sand Girl, Tate Britain, London (2016); Barry Flanagan, Hong Kong Convention Centre (2019); Barry Flanagan, IKON, Birmingham (2019); and Alchemy of the Theatre, Waddington Custot, London (2020). Flanagan’s monumental bronze work ‘Large Nijinski on Anvil Point’ was exhibited in London’s Berkeley Square as part of Art of Mayfair, a celebration of Mayfair’s vibrant cultural scene, in June 2023. Flanagan’s work is held in numerous public collections worldwide, including Museum of Modern Art, New York; Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and Tate, London.
Barry Flanagan and BronzeA decades-long collaboration between the Welsh sculptor and an east London bronze casting foundry
Mayfair Sculpture Trail opens today
For one month from 1 October, Mayfair Sculpture Trail sees a collection of artworks installed on the streets of Mayfair for the public to explore. Waddington Custot presents monumental sculptures by David Annesley, Barry Flanagan and Pablo Reinoso.Read more
Opening bite: the tastiest private views in LondonThe Art Newspaper, March 6 2020
Art: 5 of the BestGuardian Guide, March 5 2020
Barry Flanagan’s flying hares leap into Waddington CustotFT How to Spend It , February 4 2020
Barry FlanaganStudio International, October 15 2019
The sparkling heritage of British art schoolsFT Weekend, September 28 2019
The best art exhibitions in summer 2019Prospect, July 18 2019
Frieze SculptureFinancial Times, July 13 2019
Contemporary sculptures take over London parkJuly 6 2019
London's Largest Free Outdoor Sculpture Display Now Open In Regent's ParkForbes, July 5 2019
Women Get in Touch with Their Masculine Sides at Frieze SculptureElephant, July 5 2019
Frieze Sculpture Park on ITV NewsITV News, July 4 2019
Where to buy...The Week , April 2 2016
4* Review of Animal, Vegetable, MineralTime Out , April 12 2016
Paranormal ActivityThe Spectator , March 12 2016
London has served up the diet version of DelacroixApollo Magazine , March 11 2016
Exhibitions and Art Fairs
Frieze Masters 2023
While renowned sculptors often rise to prominence with large-scale – sometimes monumental – pieces, many also work on an altogether more human measure. This digital presentation includes a variety of intriguing small-scale sculptures, from pieces that deliberately engage with human proportions designed for domestic settings, to hand-made models and maquettes that respond to larger sculptures, often giving rise to new ones.
Many of the works have component parts such as handles, or curves and indentations, of which the size is recognisably intended to fit into the human hand or to create a dialogue with the body. These sculptures not only retain, but condense to great effect, the ambition, concept and scope of the artists’ larger scale work.
The works in this group presentation demonstrate the translation of drawing into the three-dimensional; towering monumental installations protrude from the walls, and curl up from floors, while the negative space of the picture plane is variously architecturally structured, or revealed through light and shade.
The exhibition includes works by Peter Blake, Enrico Castellani, Michael Craig-Martin, Ian Davenport, Jean Dubuffet, Barry Flanagan, Peter Halley, Hans Hartung, Frank Stella and Bernar Venet among others.
One of Bernar Venet’s iconic Indeterminate Line sculptures, created in rolled steel, shows the French artist’s approach to conceptualising and configuring space.
Mgarap Bangke, a 2004 wall-based sculpture by Frank Stella, similarly towers in a tangle of industrial materials, which the artist has coerced into curving organic forms. Moulded sections of dark carbon fibre are supported by circular loops of unpainted stainless-steel tubing and geometric rails.
A new painting by Ian Davenport, titled Yellow and Purple (Double), is also displayed, portraying the artist's use of colour as a tool to delineate space through controlled movements of vibrant paint.
TEFAF Online New York 2020
A VIP preview runs online from 30–31 October, with the public opening dates from 1–4 November.
Waddington Custot has selected to show Barry Flanagan’s Hells Bells, one of the artist’s most celebrated renditions of the iconic ‘leaping hare’.
In this sculpture the hare takes a giant leap –ears aloft and limbs outstretched in a burst of youthful energy– over a steel lattice plinth which evokes a pyramid.
Art Basel Hong Kong
Our presentation includes works by Chu Teh-Chun, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Peter Blake, Ian Davenport, Jean Dubuffet, Barry Flanagan, Hans Hartung, Pierre Soulages and Fabienne Verdier.