Barry Flanagan

The Anesthesiologist


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Barry Flanagan 1941–2009
Etching on paper
Image: 197 × 247 mm
Presented by Sue Flanagan, the artist's former wife 1985

Catalogue entry

This catalogue entry discusses a group of works; details of the individual work are given at the end of the introductory text.

Barry Flanagan born 1941

P02723 - P02834 Group of 112 etchings and linocuts, various sizes. Presented by the artist’s former wife Sue Flanagan 1985

This group of prints represents nearly the entire printed output of the artist up to 1983 and is one of the largest public collections of his prints. The titles were all given by the artist. Those prints bearing the stamped monogram ‘f’ were stamped by the Tate Gallery at the artist’s request.

The artist has said that print-making represents for him a ‘traditional pursuit’. Flanagan began to make prints in 1970. His prints (and drawings) often have a very personal content and can be seen as akin to private memoranda. Sometimes used as gifts for friends, they record aspects of the artist’s personal life. He first published prints with the Rowan Gallery in 1972, a year in which his print-making was prolific. Thereafter he published series of prints with Bernard Jacobson Gallery in 1976 and Waddington Graphics in 1983.

In 1981 Flanagan exhibited a comprehensive range of his prints and drawings at the Mostyn Art Gallery, Llandudno. The exhibition travelled to Mold, Cardiff, Swansea, Southampton and London and then, in 1983, toured in Italy, France and Holland. In the early 1980s Colin Dyer, working with the artist in his studio, completed archival sets of prints using cream Vélin d’Arches paper. Those etchings in the Sue Flanagan donation printed on white paper are generally those which the artist printed at Petersburg Press, at Burleighfield Press (with David Harding) or in his own studio in the early and mid 1970s.

Many of the prints have a small dark rectangle at one of their edges which results from the etching process. David Brown explains:

In the preparation of etching plates, they are ‘smoked’ in a flame to produce a fine, even covering of wax, the plate being held by a pair of tongs and therefore unaffected by the ‘smoking’ process would be waxed later, but with these prints, Flanagan chose to eliminate this final stage leaving a small area etched by acid and absorbing the ink (Barry Flanagan: Etchings and Linocuts, exh. cat., Waddington Graphics 1984, [p.3]).

So characteristic of Flanagan’s etchings is this black mark, it can almost be seen as a second ‘signature’.

These entries are based on conversations with Sue Flanagan and Colin Dyer and have been approved by the artist.

P02737 The Anesthesiologist 1972

Etching 197 x 247 (7 3/4 x 9 3/4) on Saunders paper 300 x 385 (11 3/4 x 15 1/4); plate-mark 197 x 247 (7 3/4 x 9 3/4); watermark ‘T H SAUN[DERS]; printed by the artist; not editioned
Printed inscription ‘the anesthesiologist' bottom centre of image; stamped with the artist's monogram ‘f' below image b.r.

The artist has said that this print was inspired by his reading of ‘Anesthesia' by Basile Yanovsky, in W.H. Auden's anthology, A Certain World: A Commonplace Book, published in 1971. In his short essay Yanovsky, an anesthesiologist, meditates on the philosophical implications of his work. An essential element of anesthesia, he writes, is that it must be reversible. This, he claims, is in a certain sense a ‘negation' of time and history. The fact that an anesthetist, facing questions of life and death, must always make a choice between two evils, puts anesthesia on a par, he continues with a deadpan solemnity, with other ‘crucial problems of our contemporary life'. Touching on more personal aspects of his profession, Yanovsky describes the ‘unmitigated loneliness intellectual and spiritual' of the job: ‘the anesthesiologist is alone: between him and the failing patient there is no-one (perhaps only a prayer) ...' (p.20). In P02737 Flanagan has focused on the intense, and necessarily isolated, relationship between the anesthesiologist and his patient in a way that echoes Yanovsky's description of the loneliness of his work.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.333 and 337

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