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Barry Flanagan was born in Prestatyn, North Wales in 1941. In 1957 and 1958, he studied at Birmingham College of Art and Crafts before going on to St. Martin's School of Art in London in 1964. Flanagan graduated in 1966 with a Vocational Diploma in Sculpture and then went on to teach at St. Martin's School of Art and the Central School of Arts and Crafts, between 1967 and 1971.
His first solo exhibition was held at the Rowan Gallery, London in 1966. He has since exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions, in Britain and abroad, including recent shows such as 'Gravity and Grace: The Changing Condition of Sculpture' at the Hayward Gallery, London in 1993 and 'Un Siècle de Sculpture Anglaise' at the Jeu de Paume, Paris in 1996. In 1982, Flanagan represented Britain at the Venice Biennale.
Flanagan is perhaps best known for his dynamic, often monumental, bronze hares, which were first exhibited in the early 1980s. They are bitingly ironic, bold and have become one of the most personal and recognisable artistic endeavours of the second half of this century; emblems of creative freedom, without a whit of pretension. Flanagan's first bronze 'Leaping Hare' was cast in 1979. His move to bronze represented the culmination of his earlier explorations into different media, from the sand, rope and felt, of his earliest sculptures, which focused on composition and challenged previous ideas of what sculpture might constitute, to the stone, marble and sheet metal sculptures of the 1970s.
Although Flanagan might have appeared retrogressive in his move towards increasingly academic sculptural methods, he has in fact used bronze in a manner which subverts all traditional concepts of 'heroic' bronze figuration. Indeed, the bronze hares can be linked to Flanagan's admiration for the literary work of Alfred Jarry, in particular his notion of "pataphysics" or the science of imaginary solutions. Jarry, associated with Dadaism and Surrealism, "established himself as one of the surest enemies of antiquated academicism, through iconoclastic humour which demolished logic and morality." Many of the hares are given anthropomorphic traits, however, they do not project any specific politics or morality. Indeed, his use of the hare as subject matter implies a knowledge of its broad transcultural associations, for example, as a symbol of life in Egypt and China.
A major retrospective of his work was held at the Fundacion 'La Caixa' Madrid in 1993, touring to the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes in 1994. His work is held in public collections worldwide including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the Tate Gallery in London. Flanagan's bronze hares have also been exhibited in many outdoor spaces, most notably on Park Avenue in New York in 1995-96 and at Grant Park, Chicago in 1996. In 1998, he had solo exhibitions in Chicago, Salzburg, Basel and London.
In 1999, he had a solo show at Galerie Xavier Hufkens in Brussels followed by an exhibition at Tate, Liverpool in 2000. In 2002, a major exhibition of his works was on display at the Kunsthalle Recklinghausen, Germany, and then toured to the Musee d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain, Nice. In 2006, the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin held a major retrospective of his work, in association with Dublin City Art Gallery The Hugh Lane, which included ten large-scale bronzes installed along O'Connell Street and in Parnell Square. In 2011, Tate presented Barry Flanagan Early Works 1965-1982.
He died in Spain in August of 2009 of moto neurone disease.