Barry Flanagan

The Cat’s Whiskers

1972, reprinted c.1983

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Barry Flanagan 1941–2009
Etching on paper
Image: 222 × 150 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.

P02744 The Cat's Whiskers 1972, reprinted c.1983

Etching 222 x 150 (8 3/4 x 5 7/8) on cream Vélin d'Arches paper 384 x 286 (15 1/8 x 11 1/4); plate-mark 222 x 150 (8 3/4 x 5 7/8); printed by Colin Dyer c.1983; not editioned
Printed inscription ‘The cat's whiskers' top centre of image, ‘polanski's macbeth' bottom centre of image and other words, some in reverse, on left and right edges of image; stamped with the artist's monogram ‘f' below image b.r.

This print depicts a newspaper cutting of a film review by Dilys Powell in the Sunday Times (30 Jan.1972, p.38). The photograph in the centre of the image is labelled in Flanagan's own handwriting rather than in type-face ‘polanski's macbeth'. The main headings and the first ten lines of the block of writing at the left of the image, representing part of a column of text, read left to right. Flanagan, however, did not attempt to etch all the newspaper text in reverse on the plate: the remaining lines of text on the left of the photograph must be read right to left and the text on the right hand side of the image is upside down and in reverse.

What can be read of the article, only partly transcribed by the artist, does not pertain to Roman Polanski's film Macbeth but to the film adaptation of Dylan Thomas's Under Milkwood, made in 1972, which starred Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O'Toole and, on the right hand side of the photograph, to a film starring Clint Eastwood. The title of the article ‘The cat's whiskers' was pun on the name of a character in Under Milkwood, Captain Cat, played in the film by Richard Burton, who dreams of lost loves. Dylan Thomas's poetic text, full of non sequiturs and innuendos, offered the same punning use of words that Flanagan himself practised. Thomas's name for the Welsh town in which the inhabitants of Under Milkwood live, Llareggub, is a prime example of the inversion of words that Flanagan himself presented in this print.

However, the artist has stated that what attracted him to this article was simply the central photograph which shows the hooded, dark reflection of Macbeth, the double image of the actor framed by the arch. He considers the print to be an acknowledgement of the photographer's approach.

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 339

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