S.M.A.K. Presents Barry Flanagan in Ghent

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S.M.A.K. Presents Barry Flanagan in Ghent
Barry Flanagan, The drummer, 1988-89, Collectie Bouwfonds Nederland.

GHENT, BELGIUM.- S.M.A.K. Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, presents Barry Flanagan, on view though June 19, 2005. This exhibition of work by Barry Flanagan (b. Prestatyn, North Wales, 1941) is the first in a series of modest ‘mini-retrospectives’ the SMAK is organising in order to take an in-depth look at substantial groups of work in its collection. The intention is to show the work of the artists concerned anew, surrounded and put in context by a range of works from museums and private collections in Belgium and abroad.

One element that unites almost all Flanagan’s works is his sense of his responsibility, as an artist, towards the material with which he works. This had ripened to the full by the time of his second solo exhibition in 1968, where he showed a number of ‘sculptures’ in the simplest of soft materials such as jute sacks, rope and cloth, giving them such simple titles as Heap, Bundle and Pile. In addition to the simple and playful aspect of the wordplay itself, these titles were the purest, most accurate and therefore also ‘most responsible’ illustration of the materials with which the sculptures were constructed. This inspiration provided the starting point for a whole series of works made of soft materials which were to appear over the following years, from which Flanagan tried increasingly to distil the inherent qualities.

Several years later, in the early Seventies, Flanagan made a sudden ‘media switch’ from soft materials to stone. On a visit to the marble quarries of northern Italy, Flanagan turned out to be an enthusiastic hunter of fossil stones, in which he recognised the same inherent visual qualities as in his soft organic materials. According to Flanagan, the poetry of these fossil stones lay after all in the fact that it was already there, and only had to be brought out by a gentle hand and entirely in conformance with its specific nature. It is in this spirit that he set to work on his early Stone Carvings. These works are typified by their intimate, personal and concentrated expression, which is made explicit only by a subtle added suggestion by the sculptor, which sometimes consisted of no more than a simple but deliberately positioned scratch. Flanagan’s aim here was no more than to provide the viewer with a number of keys to a possible interpretation, without forcing the object to ‘behave’ other than it would in reality.

In his later Stone Carvings – which are simply given the title Carving plus a sequential number – Flanagan suddenly departed from his gentle handling of the material. He started making much more radical changes to the found stones, though without losing sight of them as objects in their own right from which the sculpture must emerge.
For this ‘more in-depth’ treatment of the stone, he drew inspiration from the characteristic Italian technique for marble, whereby one first chisels a small model in stone before venturing onto the proper work. Flanagan adopted this procedure but without concerning himself with its necessary ‘slowness’. He therefore restricted himself to a model in clay, since this can be manipulated more directly, which makes the appearance of the final stone product more sensual and individual.

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