Barry Flanagan

flaming red

1973, 1978

Not on display
Artist
Barry Flanagan 1941–2009
Medium
Hessian, wood, paint, dye and string
Dimensions
As displayed: 1320 x 610 x 170 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Dr Luther Brady 2012
Reference
T13575

Summary

flaming red consists of two lengths of hessian; the longer piece (1.35 metres in length) hangs like a banner in front of the shorter piece (about a third of the length of the longer one). Both hang from a wooden bar that projects out from the wall, hung by another wooden construction held to the wall by string and one nail. The longer length of hessian is dyed red and its side edges are bordered by a white paint partially made up of china clay. A hole has been cut into the fabric, the bottom edge of which is about one third from the top; this circular hole is also bordered with a line of white paint. The unpainted piece of hessian is bordered at its left and right edges by a line of white paint, and in addition a roughly painted area of white is partially visible through the hole in the red hessian element. The work’s title refers to the colour of the dyed hessian; other works of this type are often similarly titled to reflect each work’s dominant colour.

Flanagan made a number of banner works, the majority of which date from between 1973 and 1979. The range of forms in this series of works evidence many of the artist’s key sculptural concerns. Foremost is the way in which they shift between two and three dimensions, which is evident in the merging of the boundaries between painting and sculpture in this piece. The use of different fabrics as well as the hanging mechanism, paint and the hole all encourage the viewer to address the work as a sculpture investigating the relationship between object and image. For instance, the cut-out hole shows the fabric behind the red felt as well as the negative space between; this is in contrast with other works which have the circle motif, such as and then among Celts N. ’77 1977 (Plubronze Ltd, London). In this piece the hole is painted rather than cut, making an allusion to a solar eclipse and consequently suggesting that this work is more concerned with image than object. The attention paid to the particular physicality of flat surfaces in the banner works, whether stretched or unstretched, hanging, propped, layered or leaning, relate to their status as objects. Flanagan addressed these concerns in june 2 ’69 1969 (Tate T01717), in which a large sheet of unstretched canvas is propped up against a wall by three long sticks. Gravity fixes the appearance of the work as the sheet hangs loosely against the wall, anticipating the form that hanging banners such as flaming red would later take. This was also prefigured by line 3’68 1968 (Collection Durand Dessert, Paris), in which four pieces of fabric appear to hang from a cord stretched across a space. The unstretched fabric pieces actually hang from four lengths of dowling, which fit together through hooks and eyes and which are then strung across a space. The shapes that the hanging fabric adopts are thus both a result of the actions enacted by gravity and the line of wood. This sense of a direct engagement with materials and physical process is something that for Flanagan distinguished sculpture from painting, as he explained in an interview in 1969: ‘The convention of painting always bothered me. There always seemed to be a way of painting. With sculpture you always seemed to be working directly, with materials and with the physical world inventing your own organizations.’ (Gene Baro, interview with Barry Flanagan, ‘Sculpture Made Visible’, Studio International, vol.178, no.915, October 1969, pp.122.)

Flanagan made works such as flaming red at a time when his sculptural language was going through changes. In the late 1960s his work was typified by a use of materials such as sand, felt, canvas, hessian, wood, rope and projected light, which contrasted with the marble, stone, bronze or steel usually associated with sculpture. These materials were often used or arranged in conventional ways, so that the wood used was a branch or fabrics folded. By the 1970s Flanagan turned to stone carving, but his investigation of less conventional materials continued in the banner works.

flaming red and the banner works also related to Flanagan’s stone sculptures through their shared simplicity, ritualistic process of making and resulting talismanic charge. The spare mark-making achieved through direct carving on the stone surface evokes the scroll-like form of the banners. This effect was also noticed by many critics, who described them as ‘oriental’ after their first exhibition at the Rowan Gallery, London in 1973. Douglas Crimp, for example, compared them to ‘Chinese Hanging Scrolls’ (‘Barry Flanagan’, Art News, March 1974, p.99). For critic Tim Hilton the forms of these banner pieces are not only ‘simple, indeed basic, but … are cabbalistic, proud and reserved.’ (Tim Hilton, ‘Less a Slave of Other People’s Thinking …’, in Barry Flanagan, exhibition catalogue, British Pavilion, Venice Biennale 1982, p.11.) Throughout the period in which he concentrated on carving, Flanagan’s banner works (and the genesis of flaming red largely spans this period) act as a consistent counterpoint to his more obviously sculptural activity.

Further reading
Barry Flanagan, exhibition catalogue, Fundación La Caixa, Madrid 1993.
Barry Flanagan: Early Works 1965–1982, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2011, reproduced p.96.

Andrew Wilson
February 2012

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