Conceived in 1997, the present work is one of two artist's copies of a further edition of eight.
'Thematically the choice of the hare is quite a rich and expressive sort of model; the conventions of the cartoon and the investment of human attributes into the animal world is a very well practiced 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 grimace on the face of a model.' (Barry Flanagan, interview with Judith Bumpus, quoted in Barry Flanagan: Prints 1970-1983, exhibition catalogue, The Tate Gallery, London, 1986, p.15).
This daring marching hare, with its sensitively rendered gestures, epitomises Flanagan's expressive play with anthropomorphism, which was a major preoccupation throughout his career. The artist's early notebook sketches and etchings of various fowl and house pets experimentally used animals as vehicles for the direct and economical display of human attributes, but it was not until this interest coincided with Flanagan's return to bronze casting in 1979 that the theme took on primary focus in his work. This change also marked a departure from the abstract and theoretical 'soft forms' of the 1960s and 1970s, as the latter part of Flanagan's career was dominated by representational work. Especially in his Hares, Flanagan sought to push the definitional boundaries of figurative art and expand upon established rhetorical modes. These works became increasingly monumental, and the towering nature of the present piece, not only in terms of its size but in its bold upright alertness, is a significant confrontation to the observer's steadfast verticality.
Flanagan cast the first Leaping Hare in 1979. The animal held an important place in his own imagination, but Flanagan was also intrigued by the significant position of the hare within the wider cultural context. He was particularly affected by The Leaping Hare by George Ewart Evans and David Thomson, which was first published in 1972. This study delves into various cultures' legends and mythologies, touching on the hare's metaphorical and symbolic significance throughout history. The Egyptians and Chinese associated the hare with the concept of life itself, and the animal has been a symbol of volatility, rebirth, and renewal. In an interview on BBC Radio, Flanagan explained how he became fascinated with these notions: 'The fact that the hare, culturally, has a particular sort of place in the imagination; I share this. And having sighted the hare, on the last big snows, bounding quite relaxedly, East to West by the Sussex Downs, it's very nice to know that friends have all stood around one of these bronze hares produced, and they've decided that the anatomy is a complement to the mind's eye of appreciation of the lilt or run of this leaping hare, which is very gratifying' (Barry Flanagan, Kaleidoscope BBC Radio 4, January 1982).
The elongated forms of Left Handed Drummer relate to these early Leaping Hares, in the perceived sense of motion and energy. However, in the incorporation of the drum, the piece also demonstrates Flanagan's sense of wit and playfulness, while reiterating in the allusion to a seemingly ancient procession, the hare's symbolic strength and steadfast perseverance.
In the catalogue that accompanied the 1982 Venice Biennale, at which Flanagan was selected to represent Britain, Tim Hilton writes of the symbolism implicit in Flanagan's choice of the hare: 'This little beast, fast and fleeting, active in the spring, standing upright only for a second or two, can carry many of Flanagan's purposes. It is the consummation of the vein of humour in his art. But it also has serious artistic purposes as a vehicle for formal variations. I think we would be wrong not to recognise that there are numerous forms and attitudes taken by the hare that repeat a kind of classic modern figure sculpture... It can be thought of as a personal, or a person; or as a symbol of the person; or as a symbol of some universal principle.' (Barry Flanagan: Sculpture, exhibition catalogue, The British Council, London, 1982, p. 14)
In the present work, the hare is portrayed at its most confident and proud; the animal assertively strides along, the drum its battle cry. Yet Flanagan has also managed to imbue the sculpture with an invigorating tension. By depicting the moment prior to the beating of the drum, he captures a fleeting instant of breathless anticipation, and the precarious balance of the figure's lanky monumental form on the rising pyramidal precipice is unflinchingly defiant. Flanagan continually revelled in his ability to find interesting solutions to the dilemma of how to relate a sculpture to the ground, even resting Four Casb '67 on a surface of sand when it was first exhibited. Here, the base's upward slope highlights the hare's forceful forward dynamism and, in its geometric nature, it sets off the hare's organic contours. The collective effect of the base in relation to the figure is one of power, cheek, and humour. Here is Flanagan's artistic vision at its best; the hare's animated form perfectly articulates the rich theatrical possibilities of a subject that occupied the artist's imagination for over twenty years.
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