Barry Flanagan 1941-2009

Article excerpt

Barry Flanagan's first solo exhibition at the Rowan Gallery took place in 1966, just a few months after he had left St Martin's School of Art. His work of this period was made from everyday materials such as hessian, sand, muslin, plaster or rope, and the apparent simplicity of the materials and the direct way in which they were deployed caused him to be compared with the then current tendencies of anti-form post-minimal sculpture and Arte Povera. However, such a connection--largely on the level of a similarity of appearance--hides much of what actually motivated him as an artist.

An indication of these motivations can be found in his long-term sympathy with 'Pataphysics--Alfred Jarry's 'science of imaginary solutions', described helpfully by Raymond Queneau as established 'on the truth of contradictions and exceptions'. In 1964 Flanagan had been given a copy of the May-June 1960 special issue of Evergreen Review entitled 'What is 'Pataphysics?', and the paradoxical discovery of imaginary solutions was to be his guiding light from this point. He did not enrol formally in the College de 'Pataphysique, instead his enrollment had a strong flavour of imagination. He later told Thieri Foulc (the Provediteur-Editeur general of the College) that he would 'never throw away his card of membership until it crumbles into dust', even though he never did receive a membership card. In 2001, however, he was formally admitted to the College when he was co-opted among its Satraps. This took place at a party in Paris that year where Flanagan met fellow Satraps including Dario Fo, Umberto Eco and Jean Baudrillard.

Sculptures made from materials that are allowed to find their own form--sand that flows through the fingers, rope running along a gallery floor, a pile of folded canvas sheets, a line that can describe a volume (and a volume descriptive of a line), light that takes graphic form--all rest on a seemingly arbitrary process, followed consistently, where artistic creation can be found in an activity of making. …

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