Barry Flanagan

To the Last of the Imaginary Solutions

1972, reprinted c.1983

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Barry Flanagan 1941–2009
Etching and aquatint on paper
Image: 202 × 250 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.

P02785 To the Last of the Imaginary Solutions 1972, reprinted c.1983

Etching and aquatint 202 x 250 (7 7/8 x 9 7/8) on cream Vélin d'Arches paper 382 x 568 (15 x 22 3/8) plate-mark 202 x 250 (7 7/8 x 9 7/8); watermark ‘ARCHES | FRANCE'; printed by Colin Dyer c.1983; not editioned
Printed inscription ‘to the last of the | imaginary solutions' b.l. of image, ‘to make ['a' deleted] the turd jump' and ‘june 25/72' b.r. of image and ‘G.E.C.' and ['...' deleted] t.r. of image; stamped with the artist's monogram ‘f' below image b.r.

The heaped, tuber-like forms at the centre of the print represent one of the artist's series of ‘Heap' sculptures made in 1968. These were made of long hessian bags, filled with sand and tied neatly with cord, which were literally heaped on top of each other (see, for example, ‘Heap 3' repr. in Barry Flanagan Sculptures, exh. cat., Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1983, p.30).

The pointed head and spiral motif on the stomach of the bloated figure in the top right of the image identify it as Ubu (see also P02794), the anti-hero of a series of plays by Alfred Jarry (1873-1907). Flanagan came across the French playwright's work when given a copy of the issue of The Evergreen Review (no.13, 1960) which was devoted to Jarry (Lewis Biggs, Barry Flanagan - A Visual Invitation, Sculpture 1967-1987, exh. cat., Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne 1987, p.7). Flanagan became an enthusiast and courted in his sculpture the ambiguity, contradictions and paradoxes that were central to Jarry's science of ‘'Pataphysics'. The title of P02785 refers to the statements of another character of Jarry's, Docteur Faustroll, who defined ‘'Pataphysics' as the ‘science of imaginary solutions'. In calling this etching, ‘To the Last of the Imaginary Solutions', the artist is proposing a toast, as it were, to Jarry's vision of the irrational and absurd. The inscription ‘to make ['a' deleted] the turd jump' appears to allude to the scatalogical language used by the character Ubu.

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 347

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