Central to this artistic vernacular is the humanlike quality of Flanagan’s hares. Commenting on his bronze sculptures, the artist has articulated his desire to pursue themes that imbue human activity and feeling with greater symbolic power, hence his interest in an animal that has dominated popular mythology and fairytales across cultures and eras. He has stated that he finds animal expressions more motivating than those of people: “The ears [of a hare] 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” (Barry Flanagan in conversation with Judith Bumpus in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Gallery, Barry Flanagan: Prints 1970-1983, 1986, p. 15). In the present example, the hare’s alert and prominent ears reflect a joy and confidence that pervades the figure, as cartoonish spindly legs propel him incessantly forward. This playful pose, with the drummer raised and marching on his hind legs, distorts the trope of classical bronze sculpture as it assumes a stance and size typically reserved for human subjects. Combining the conventional metonymic associations of the hare with the defamiliarising tactics of scale and whimsy, Left Handed Drummer epitomises the distinct balance of the classical and the peculiar for which Flanagan is best known.
Perfectly complementing this attitude, Flanagan’s use of bronze as his primary material for the hares aligns his work with academic sculptural traditions, yet his individual style of manipulating the surface was far from conformist. Opting for expression instead of representation, the rough texture of Left Handed Drummer reveals the artist’s modelling method, in which he built up slabs of clay to suggest form with minimal refinement. The outcome after casting is the luscious rippling effect of the uneven bronze surface, creating an illusion of the hare’s perpetually morphing presence from shifting angles or changing illumination. Flanagan believed bronze was best suited to his vision, as the dark, undulating surfaces reflect what he referred to as the “bloom and drama” of his work; the linear predisposition of his lean and sinewy subjects providing a kinetic tension that animates his sculpture with exuberant vivacity. Left Handed Drummer, a larger-than-life example of this dynamism, perfectly articulates Flanagan’s central concerns as a master of both academic skill and imaginative play.
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