Friday, December 14, 2012

With Barry Flanagan:Travels Through Time and Spain by Richard McNeff

This beautifully produced book which contains many drawings and photographs is an account of the friendship and working relationship between the author and Barry Flanagan, the Welsh sculptor and artist who is best known for his bronze hare statues. A student of St.Martin's School of Art in the sixties and subsequently a teacher there, he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1982. He was made a CBE in 1996.
From the mid-1990s Flanagan lived and worked in Dublin and Ibiza and had become an Irish citizen. In 2008, the Hugh Lane gallery organised an outdoor exhibition of ten of Flanagan's sculptures along Dublin's main thoroughfares. This co-incided with a major exhibition in the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Barry Flanagan died of Motor Neurone disease in 2009. His work can be seen worldwide and a retrospective show was held at the Tate Britain at the end of 2011. This year fifteen of his works were displayed at Chatsworth House, Derbyshire in a Sotheby's sale.
Leaping Hare on Crescent and Bell,       Large Nijinsky Hare on Anvil Point,
London                                                        O'Connell Bridge, Dublin

The end sheet presents twelve shots of Flanagan which immediately reveal his playful character as he tips his hat or hides behind a sculpture. The cover is telling- a well-dressed Flanagan sits on the floor wearing a three-piece suit but with bohemian open-toed slippers on his feet.
The book covers the time when the author first met Flanagan in 1987 to his death in 2009, with particular focus on an exhibition put on in 1992 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Ibiza where they both lived.
Born in 1941, his three elder siblings had been evacuated the year before to America, arranged by his father's employer Warner Brothers. This meant that he was an only child until he was five, when they suddenly returned. According to his mother ' "he never got over it" '.
An artist of international repute, the author first saw Flanagan at a wedding but did not meet properly until at a literary reading in San Juan. Meeting afterwards in the author's home, he realised he was in awe of him and silenced, a unusual state for a man who described himself as 'garrulous in nature'. Flanagan's strong and sometimes difficult character comes through in stories such as on losing his license and needing a driver how he had the car modified so the horn was on the passenger side and 'had no compunction about using it and did so frequently,...narrowly avoiding a fight...on one occasion. It was his way of staying in charge.'

Flanagan saw the "tortured artist" as a cliché and 'deliberately took the romance out of his calling by describing himself as a tradesman and his practice as a trade.' His eccentric way of dealing with people led to one appointment with a photographer being sent instructions by a phone call (before mobiles) to ' "Kindly get on with it...The birds, what else?" ', which referred to a sketch of three birds on the wall, which were duly photographed, then made into an etching and an edition of eighty prints.

This book is chock full of 'Flanagan anecdotes' and as a reader I felt like I was being let in on a secret of these bohemian artists who had lived in Ibiza and their hippy and boozy lives. It is a fascinating account and whether you are familiar with Flanagan's artistic work or not, this is an extremely interesting biography which is a great read that will leave you more knowledgeable about the artist as well as entertained by the stories.

With Barry Flanagan: travels Through Time and Spain is published by The Lilliput Press

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