Ikon Gallery presents major survey of work by Barry Flanagan

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Ikon Gallery presents major survey of work by Barry Flanagan
Barry Flanagan, Heap 3 67', 1967. Hessian, cloth, sand. Installation photo from Barry Flanagan Light pieces and other works at & Model, Leeds, 2017. © The Estate of Barry Flanagan courtesy. Plubronze.

BIRMINGHAM.- This is a major survey of work by Barry Flanagan, one of Britain’s most inventive sculptors, filling entirely Ikon’s two floors of gallery space. It includes key pieces drawn from the Flanagan Estate, Tate, Arts Council Collection and Southampton City Gallery.

Curated by Jo Melvin, it brings together a selection of Flanagan’s iconic bronze sculptures (1980s – 90s) alongside earlier works, offering new insights into the interconnectedness of seemingly distinct aspects of his practice. Demonstrating an ongoing experimentation with materials and their properties and a symbiosis between abstraction and figuration, the exhibition challenges the supposition that Flanagan’s later works represent a marked shift in his approach to art-making. Rather, they represent the distillation of his decades-long fascination with ontology, movement and the physicality of the various materials with which he worked.

Flanagan enrolled at Birmingham College of Arts and Crafts to study architecture in 1957, transferring to the fine art department a year later, before moving to London in 1960. The exhibition highlights his presence in the city, signified also by the placement of one of his bronzes, Large Troubador (2004) outside Ikon’s premises in Brindleyplace.

Flanagan’s first solo exhibition held at the Rowan Gallery in 1966 positioned him as a leading figure in what soon became known generally as conceptual art, although working sculpturally with sand, cloth, plaster, string and paper. Ikon presents a number of works from this time including sand muslin 2 (1966), 2 space rope sculpture (gr 2 sp 60) (1967), heap 3 '67 (1967), sand pour (1968) and Untitled twice (1973).

In 1972 Flanagan bought a copy of the book The Leaping Hare by George Ewart Evans and David Thomson, an “anthropological study” of the hare combining legends from different cultures, superstitions and mythologies. Revealing the hare as a symbol of unpredictability, resurrection and renewal, Flanagan felt it resonated with the fundamental proposition of his work overall. Film works (hole in the sea, 1969, bollards project, 1970) and projected light installations (e.g. daylight light pieces 1 & 2, ‘69) in particular convey Flanagan’s preoccupation with transience and fugitive phenomena, and the hares were embodiments of this. e.g. Ball and Claw (1981), Leaping Hare (1982), Large Boxing Hare on Anvil (1984), Figure in the Trees (1993) and Juggler (1994).

For Flanagan, sculpture was as much performance, sound, light as it was bronze and carving. The exposure of process and method is something he consistently performed in every medium he used throughout his career. He frequently used casts of objects as components in sculptures and allowed bits of the armature to show through stripes of clay or plaster, thereby exposing and recording the processes of its making. The durational nature of his films is translated into the bronzes, as we bear witness to the processes of casting. It is aptly contradictory then, that the fleeting hare should become a monument to time and duration, channelling the quixotic, mysterious propositions implicit in the early work.

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