Left Handed Drummer

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  • Provenance

    Waddington Custot Gallery, London
    Private Collection, New York

  • Exhibited

    London, Waddington Galleries, Barry Flanagan, 16 September - 10 October 1998 and The Economist Plaza 7 September - 17 October 1998 (another example exhibited)
    Dublin, RHA Gallagher Gallery, Royal Hibernian Academy: 169th Exhibit, 20 April – 15 May 1999 (another example exhibited)
    Nice, Musée d’Art modern et d’Art Contemporain, Barry Flanagan – Sculpture et dessin, 6 December 2002 – 25 May 2003 (another example exhibited)
    Narborough, Narborough Hall, Barry Flanagan at Narborough, organised by Robert Sandelson, August – September 2003 (another example exhibited)
    Winterslow, New Arts Centre, Roche Court Sculpture, Barry Flanagan: Hare Coursed, 16 May – 9 September 2009 (another example exhibited)
    London, Waddington Galleries, BarryFlanagan Works 1966-2008, 17 March – 17 April 2010 (another example exhibited)
    London, Sotheby's, 20th Century British Art, London, 21 May - 25 May 2010 (another example exhibited)

  • Literature

    Barry Flanagan, exh. cat., Waddington Galleries, London, 1998, p.12 (illustrated)
    J. Haldane, The Burlington Magazine,London and New York: Barry Flanagan and Hamish Fulton, vol. 140, no. 1149, December 1998, p.839 (illustrated)
    Nice, Musée d’Art modern et d’Art Contemporain, Barry Flanagan – Sculpture et dessin, 6 December 2002 – 25 May 2003, catalogue no. 23, p. 85 (illustrated)
    New Riviera Cote D’Azure, Modern and Contemporary Master, January, 2003
    O. Cena, Télérama, Le Lièvre et la chute de rein, January, 2003
    H. Kampianne, Barry Flanagan Sculpteun lièvre à la fois, Arts Actualities Magazine, February, 2003, p. 17
    O. Marro, Barry Flanagan lève un lièvre au Musée d'Art Moderne, LMS News, March, 2003
    Ray Merritt (ed.), Shared Spaces: The Joseph M. Cohen Collection, Cygnet Foundation, New York and Bologna, 2009, p.58 (illustrated)
    Barry Flanagan Work 1966-2008, exh. cat., Waddington Galleries, London, 2010, catalogue no. 34, p.93 (illustrated)
    London, Sotheby's 20th Century British Art, 2010, p.115 (illustrated) & cover (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Barry Flanagan’s work has been recognised throughout the world as two-fold in its profundity. The first part lies in his ingenious ability to summon joy from the sober material of cast bronze, rendering powerless any oxidisation through the sheer joie de vivre of his subjects. But almost paradoxically, Flanagan’s work inspires profound contemplation, as the hero of his later three decades of work, the hare, has influenced a wealth of symbolic, historical, and altogether cultural exploration of its meaning and presence in art. Left Handed Drummer, 1997, is one of the most important examples of Flanagan’s mature work and an emblematic portrait of his spirited protagonist, presenting us with an uproarious figure as serious as it is determined to please.

    Flanagan’s use of the hare as an artistic model and symbol stems from the concept of what he terms the 'surrogate figure.' As opposed to Flanagan’s prolific work in stone, sand, and other mediums, his work in bronze is almost always figurative, with the hare as the central figure. The surrogate in question is meant to bring into context the absurd joy of life, its anthropomorphic face an easy palette for our own self-projection. This marvellous half-way point between man and animal exists to test our own powers of relatability. If we have the ability to empathise with a two-dimensional portrait of a human being, why not a three-dimensional sculpture of a personified animal?

    Flanagan’s artistic sensibilities in the present form were generated over the long period of his many artistic phases of the 1960s and 1970s. Born in Wales, his early aptitude for visual art was readily apparent, and he attended the Birmingham College of Art in 1956-1958. The contemporary obsession with American Abstract Expression took hold with Flanagan, but not by means of conventional paint. Flanagan found himself steeped in sculpture, employing sand and other malleable materials to create work that was as personal as it was abstract, and he often drew upon nostalgic feelings to inspire him in their creation.

    An intellectual and poet, the young Flanagan was quite taken with the writings of French Absurdest Alfred Jarry, who introduced the concept of 'pataphysics' or 'the science of imaginary solutions.' This upended even the most devoted Abstract Expressionists by proposing even abstract art as a solution to expression was in vain. So was, in fact, the entire system of finding solutions to problems. Flanagan ran with this concept, working freely and without pressure to create a final product meant to solve a problem.

    But it was not until the 1970s that Flanagan finally encountered the figurative muse that would accompany him for the rest of his years. While he gained recognition during the burgeoning arte povera obsession of the late 1960s, it was a trip through Sussex Downs that brought him into contact with his notorious collaborator:

    'I did see a hare and was most impressed by its gait. I was travelling from Sussex to Cornwall and this hare was running just beyond the hedge… And there were three figures, one of which was a dog, coming over the brow of the South Downs, and they were literally walking a Labrador, but the hare was there and was coursing along, and rather leaping, so that was it, a hare, a leaping hare.'(from an interview with Melvyn Bragg, The South Bank Show, LWT, Jan. 23, 1983, quoted in J. Melvin, Barry Flanagan, London, 2010, p. 11)

    Despite its proximity to canine danger, the wild hare refused to acknowledge its mortal risk, opting instead to carry on its natural athleticism, unencumbered by the worries of the world, almost to the point of recklessness. Soon, Flanagan obtained a dead specimen from the butcher, using it as the model that was to be the genesis of his 30-year series.

    Our own specimen in question, Left Handed Drummer comes at the height of Flanagan’s fascination with the hare, and just before the limitations of motor neuron disease began to suppress the artist’s sculptural abilities. The title of Flanagan’s piece has its roots in a work that premiered the year before, simply titled Drummer, where, contrary to the present lot, the head is angled to the left and the drumstick is gripped with the right hand. Flanagan’s lack of specificity in terms of titling his work Left Handed Drummer as opposed to Left Handed Drummer Hare gives us a good idea of the extent of his tendency to anthropomorphise his subjects, forgoing any nomenclature that would label them as non-human.

    Flanagan’s bronze work is beautiful. Allowing us to witness his process of casting his figure, we observe his many variations on the surface of the piece, especially on the rising pyramid base. The grooves and indentations of Flanagan’s hand read almost as caresses, giving his more concrete base a surface that resembles that of the Rocky Mountains. Here, God’s hand has become Flanagan’s, imbuing his subject with a wisdom and joy far greater than any known naturally in the animal kingdom. Indeed, Flanagan testified that he allowed the shape and tone of the base to influence the figure that would occupy the space above it, a building block toward artistic freedom.

    The solidity and volume of Flanagan’s base functions as a stable to the madness that rises above. Wiry in its physiognomy and whimsical in its musicality, the figure of the hare clearly marches to its own beat. Two spindly legs, made cartoonishly wobbly by Flanagan’s masterful sculptural impulses, seem to hint at a constant motion, the hare propelled incessantly forward by his own passion for revelry. Thin athletic thighs lead to an equally elegant torso, bent backwards to suggest surging animal pride and, perhaps, just a trace of pomposity. Behind, his tail has been shrunk to the size of an apple, limiting the anatomical features that would seem to label the hare an uncivilized beast.

    Atop his expanded chest, two sinewy arms grip a primitive cymbal and stick, the harbinger of either savage battle or a celebration in the town square. The simplicity of the instruments is a testament to Flanagan’s Celtic sense of minimalism—baroque complexity is sacrificed for the sake of symbolic power, which, here, is embodied entirely by our heroic figure. Finally, atop a clearly humanoid neck, we find the expressionless head of our protagonist, the sole betrayal of his animal nature. As opposed to Drummer, 1996, the present lot is more controlled in his features, which smoothly run parallel to his protruding snout. The ears themselves deliver the emotional state of our character, raised directly above the hare’s head to signal both alertness and excitement, two necessary components for a joyous follower or a boisterous absurdest.

    But this concentration of emotion in the ears of the hare was a fabulous device that Flanagan used to highlight the effectiveness of a hare as a surrogate figure: 'Thematically, the choice of the hare is really quite a rich and expressive sort of mode; the conventions of the cartoon and the investment of human attributes into the animal world is a very well-absurdest 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 a grimace on the face of a model.' (Barry Flanagan, in Ray Merritt (ed.), Shared Spaces: The Joseph M. Cohen Collection, Cygnet Foundation, New York and Bologna, p.42.) In this way, the hare becomes an object of anthropomorphism as well as efficiency, allowing passion feeling to stem from an otherwise unlikely source.

    It is perhaps no coincidence that Flanagan’s spirited drummer looks as though he has no intention of slowing down, whatever the conditions of his ongoing march. Flanagan identified himself as an English-speaking itinerant artist, meaning that he preferred to be known by his profession as opposed to his nationality as he traveled throughout Europe. In this way, the present lot is a wonderful example of self-portraiture from Flanagan, whose figure bears more similarities than may initially meet the eye. Flanagan’s travels, especially in his earlier artistic career, made him an astute student and practitioner of many sculptural arts, including both Italian carving and English diorama work. It was he who beat the drum of craftsmanship throughout the continent. And, as a result of pan-European influence, we observe a true scholar of art history in Left Handed Drummer; Giacometti springs forth in his wiry shapes, and Rodin chimes in with his figurative elegance.

    But, while Flanagan’s hand makes myriad references to rival European sculptural masters, it is his own profundity in symbol that makes for both an ebullient and deep experience within the viewer. Both his monumentality of scale and swift movement of his animal source make the present lot a rival to some of our most cherished symbols. As critic Jo Melvin states, 'It reinforces one’s own suddenly self-conscious verticality. And it unhinges normal relations with the floor as its dark brooding frozen stillness disturbs equilibrium and balance. A quixotic moment, the instance captured. Strange, uncanny beauty, this creature has an allure that recalls the dark statuary in the British Museum, the sentinels who guard the tombs of the pharaohs. The hare taps this ancient symbol, on the threshold of otherness it is the horror of encounter with something disturbingly alive.' (J. Melvin, Barry Flanagan, London, 2010, p. 11-12).

    Melvin points to the fear of interacting with something so devoid of life yet bursting with a soul of its own—the simultaneity of life and death. In this way, Flanagan draws upon Alexander Calder’s work with sculpture. But, while Calder’s work was exuberantly joyful yet conscious of its material nature, Flanagan’s draws its paradoxical excellence from its symbolic underpinnings, where the figure has been an elusive and transfixing symbol of European culture for millennia: 'Flanagan drew from deeply embedded cultural iconography and tapped the growing interest in Shamanism to figure new solutions to the continuing and fundamental question of where cultural imagery comes from and like March hare folklore, combines the ultimate paradox in the unpredictable flow of experience.'(J. Melvin, Barry Flanagan, London, 2010, p. 14).

    This unpredictable flow of experience was the predication upon which Barry Flanagan’s work was built: there are no inherent problems in the creation of art, so why must we remain convinced that we are bound to solve them, adhering only to mere anatomical sculpture and abstractions? With Left Handed Drummer we observe Flanagan in the process of freeing himself from such received notions, believing instead that perhaps the figure most qualified to communicate human emotion was, in fact, not human at all. Left Handed Drummer is a demonstration of Flanagan’s unending quest for unpretentious creation: a work steeped in unconventionality yet bursting with symbolic richness. His most recognisable symbol in his most recognisable piece; Left Handed Drummer is truly a work of greatness.

20

Left Handed Drummer

1997
bronze with dark brown and black patina
246 x 164 x 104 cm (96 7/8 x 64 5/8 x 40 7/8 in.)
Incised with artist's monogram, stamped with foundry mark 'AB LONDON' and numbered '2/8' on the base. This work is number 2 from an edition of 8 plus 2 artist’s proofs.

Estimate
£400,000 - 600,000 ‡ ♠

sold for £506,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening

London Auction 15 October 2014 7pm