It has been evident for some time now that sculpture has been the complement of painting, and the idea that it can exist only within a social, architectural ethic is a fallacy. Since 1945, when painting in America went so dramatically beyond the boundaries of abstract art, the effect on sculptors, forced to ask themselves the same searching questions as the painters, brought about new discoveries and new materials, taking on the ‘look’ that was anything between the cross-section of a plastics laboratory and the fruits of a super bacchanalia. Barry Flanagan who is having his first ‘one-man’ would suggest in a number of his sculptures that the mediums, painting and sculpture, disappear into each other, and that we might easily be looking at the solidification of a painted form. In the case of Ellsworth Kelly’s metal cut-outs and Barnett Newman’s plaster stripes the painterly forms are put into actual space by ‘annihilating the canvas’.
Flanagan, it seems to me while leaving the form standing, wishes to reaffirm its painting source by introducing a painted shape on the ground to encompass the sculpture, as in his major work here aaing j gni aa. In others he adds a rectangle of paint to a sheet of steel, or a strip of fabric that extends from the bottom of the construction. As to the sculptures themselves. They are imaginary assemblages made from plaster, fabric, metal and plastic, with a strong three dimensional presence. They may start out as purely formal studies but usually end up as ambiguous and often disturbing suggestions of personages or objects that prick our associative faculties. Not all the visual references are readily or easily recognisable, and Flanagan’s concern with what one might call the abstract nature of the anatomy and its covering is intriguing and questioning. With the painted surface no longer the restricted arenas in which the duplication of the visible world takes place, sculpture like this acts concussively upon the environment. Flanagan is on to a promising departure and is capable of pushing the idea to its limit.
This article was first published in Arts Review, Volume VIII, no. 15, 6 August 1966.