Barry Flanagan: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral
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Barry Flanagan belonged to a wayward generation of sculptors who trained at St Martin’s in the 1960s. Reacting against their tutors’ beliefs that sculptures should be serious, static, weighty things made out of bronze or stone, they constantly pushed the art form to its limits. Often rather mischievously.
While Flanagan never stopped working with traditional materials, it’s essentially fun that characterises his work gathered in this small survey. He seemed to take particular pleasure in applying off-the-cuff gestures to heavy-duty stuff: there’s a spiral cut out of a sheet of steel and a huge piece of travertine stone that seems to have been absent-mindedly twisted like a piece of Blu-tack. Amid these abstract works is a casual swerve into figuration: a prancing bronze hare, one of many Flanagan cast throughout his career. And why not?
But all this insouciance is misdirection: it conceals the lyricism and intelligence in Flanagan’s art, and the constant nods he made to his artistic forebears. If the stranger, wackier, dafter – and louder – work of younger artists has taken the radical shine off his sculptures, then we should remind ourselves who helped them get away with it in the first place.