The sculpture, leaping hare, embellished, 2/3 jan ’80 1980 depicts an outstretched hare that has been modelled in gesso and then gilded, positioned on top of a plinth formed from a lattice of red-painted wood. It was the final work in Flanagan’s exhibition of stone sculptures at Waddington Galleries, London in 1980 and immediately signaled a shift in the direction his work would later take. Curator Catherine Lampert observed in the exhibition catalogue: ‘the artist’s obsessions are bound to change with time. The quick arcs and agitated surfaces introduced in the latest lovely piece, Leaping Hare, raise the question what part of himself Flanagan will be able to show in the clay medium. Already there is something heroic and poignant.’ (Catherine Lampert, ‘Stone Sculptures’ in Barry Flanagan, Sculptures in Stone 1973–1979, exhibition catalogue, Waddington Galleries, London 1980, p.40.) This work directly derives from Flanagan’s first sculptural investigation of the hare motif (though drawings predate it by a matter of three months). In November 1979, Flanagan made his first bronze cast of a leaping hare in an edition of three. From the moulds used for this he made a unique plaster that became the basis of this work. The plaster cast wrapped in gesso was then, according to a note that Flanagan wrote at the time, gilded ‘on the first full moon of 1980 (full moon and a lake are conducive to the laying of gold according to the Chinese)’ (from the notes added to the Waddington Galleries stock card). This suggestion of ritual and magic was an apt celebration for the way in which Flanagan had caught the capricious nature of the hare with this work. A variant of this work is Leaping Hare 1981 (Southampton City Art Gallery) in which a gilded bronze hare rests on a pyramid of crossed blue wooden battens.
Flanagan’s interest in the inherent qualities of materials and the ways they could be manipulated is typified by his discovery of the leaping hare motif and its realisation in bronze. The fleeting dance of the hare is first drawn in the sculpture’s armature over which the form is modelled in clay. The palpable weight of the bronze is in striking contrast to the hare’s elusive character, and yet as if by alchemy the hare floats, resting in balance on the fulcrum of the pyramid like structure that forms the plinth.
The hare was a subject that came to dominate Flanagan’s work for the next thirty years, repeatedly returning to it in his bronze sculpture. For Flanagan the hare was an archetypal embodiment of the trickster, delighting in breaking rules. He described the importance of the hare as a surrogate or metaphorical carrier for other subjects in his British Council exhibition catalogue of 1982:
The stone carvings tend to be abstract, dealing in form and the bronze tends to be figurative. And the chosen subject, the surrogate figure, is the hare [...] With the bronzes, I’m not interested in modelling, I seem to pursue shape and form as an abstract constituent in sculpture almost exclusively in stone, whereas the bronze work is the result of another set of ideas really: the themes are evocative of a human situation of activity. These beasts are always doing something, sporting in one way or another. The actual figure – the figure of the hare – is described in the armature. Now there’s very little drawing that’s going to help you stitch, weld an armature together which is going to be correct – you’ve got to do it there and then, weld it here, bend if there, to make an armature that’s going to be the vehicle, and of course the content has to be in that armature before you begin work.
Thematically the choice of the hare is really quite a rich and expressive sort of mode; the conventions of the cartoon and the investment of human attributes into the animal world is a very well practised device, in literature and film etc., and is really quite poignant, and on a practical level, if you consider what conveys situation and meaning and feeling in a human figure, the range of expression is in fact far more limited than the device of investing an animal – a hare especially – with the expressive attributes of a human being. The ears, for instance, are really able to convey far more than a squint in an eye of a figure, or a grimace on the face of a model.
(British Council 1982, p.93.)
A book of great interest to Flanagan was The Leaping Hare by George Ewart Evans and David Thomson (1972), which deals with the hare in the life of the countryside, in tradition, mythology and literature.Further reading
Barry Flanagan Sculpture, exhibition catalogue, British Council 1982.
Barry Flanagan, exhibition catalogue, Fundación “la Caixa”, Madrid 1993.
Barry Flanagan, Sculpture 1965–2005, exhibition catalogue, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin 2006.