"We may still not have found love in Ireland but what could be better than to have found Barry Flanagan."
- J.P. Donleavy from "Lobbing Hand Grenades:
Remarks on Barry Flanagan"
I conflict with the opening
of Marks & Spencer in Mullingar and so am glad for all of you who are
present here. And am honored to have been asked by Patrick Ryall to repeat
this speech which I first gave to open an exhibition of the sculptor and painter
Barry Flanagan at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in June 2006.
And this is the speech:
Barry Flanagan, this gentleman whom we celebrate I first met when he arrived in the company of old friend Shaun Beary at Levington Park where I live out in these Midlands of Westmeath. On future visits he came on picnics to the shore of Lough Owel where Joyce himself had, according to Ulysses, also enjoyed picnics. Now, believe it or not, in my reclusive life, I had never heard of Barry Flanagan except it was mentioned that the nice, very quiet gentleman was a sculptor. And came to visit without his hammer and chisel. And of course I kept looking at his hands and wondering how many seconds would it take for him to choke you to death. Not many I thought so it was best to be cordial and polite. Anyway it was clear he much enjoyed his wine and picnics by the shore of Lough Owel.
I never did see any further action indicating sculpting but a lady friend in England to whom I was speaking asked, to make sure of the absence of stray women, who were my recent visitors. I said no one in particular except one man called Shaun Beary and another called Barry Flanagan. She gasped. Oh my God, Beary, the son of the jockey Michael. I said yes and wondered what awful admission had I made. The name Beary I knew was famous enough in the thoroughbred world of horse racing but the other name, Flanagan, what awful thing had he done. Well she said he’s just about the most famous and brilliant sculptor in the world. Next time Barry came, I looked even closer at his hands and which were still not yet, as a farmers might be, enlarged, and calloused. And so came, his continued visits, leading I think, to my presence here. Which is I suspect because I am one of the few people who actually has live hares running across the landscape outside his windows.
And I have been asked to give this speech which now brings us to this moment which celebrates Barry Flanagan and where you now can see his work and its origins displayed in this museum. In this new Ireland we know – where the black hand of religion no more spreads fear and dread. And where it is now the dawn of the Protestant Catholic. And races and religions from across the world come to meet. And before one gets oneself dropped back into the massive bowl of obscurity, one is privileged to utter this, untutored praise of Barry Flanagan. This also a deadly serious man who not only achieves but gives us a bit of public joy. His symbols not only up Park Avenue in New York City but across the earth in many lands.
And he has come to be in Ireland. This land where a lie told is only the truth told for the time being. And a mirror still can’t be trusted. And long the land where the bile of begrudgment still boils. And corruption flourishes as political beings plot more. Ah but new generations are being born. The first whiffs of honesty are in the air. The goombeen golden handshakers have turned their attention and many gone elsewhere in the world. And now we welcome an honest man back. Barry Flanagan has come here to stay. And where the threatened fires of hell have no more fuel left to burn. But also leave us to think that maybe this wasn’t such a bad old place after all. The ten commandments are now those of the E.C. and the European Community is the law. Well let me tell you right now Barry is not going to put numbered ear tags on his hares. And be careful, while the hares are jumping all over O’Connell Street, Dublin.
But now having found a copy still in my papers. I’ll read one of my own manifestos which I issued at an exhibition as a painter in Dublin more than fifty years ago. And which I might dare think may even mirror Barry Flanagan’s earlier years as how he may have felt.
FROM NOTES AND LETTERS:
We are not dead yet. Where there is life there is success. Two days until Christmas, the most vulgar and vicious time of the year – the time of the big kill, adultery and commerce when only the child has any purity or love. I have just come from a pub where they are drunk and fighting. In Ireland friendship is on the lips but not in the heart. The past six months I have been as bitter as acid and I suddenly feel sad. When you’re sad you don’t want to fight the system, and when you stop fighting the system it’s time for the big sleep. When hatred turns to love, the will to kill is lost and that’s bad in these hard times.
Recent reports from cosmologists have kept me on the philosophical jump. It looks as if the whole set-up is tumescence and detumescence; bloom, blossom and seed. Is it any better to know? It prevents the blunders of giving to the poor or of having the fear of not giving. It teaches you the lesson that the integrity is in your own heart and in no one else’s. Ireland has everything which is too much of nothing. It rots and kills the enlightened which is too much of nothing. It rots and kills the enlightened and corrupts that which is born original. Much better to dream of Ireland from 3000 miles away. In the climb to disappointment, I feel a need of love and trust, but I have only met with calculation which is of money and faithlessness.
The animal wants its back protected and to eat. Man is that animal and when he has eaten, he deals in art and artifice, and it becomes lie and compromise; a soft, ingrate murmur of accents and incomes. They tell you to have the Minister of Culture open your show, it will get a picture in the paper and give the opening “class”; this is the universal feeling, the feeling to which all animals respond; the great, esthetic communion without body odour. Where do we go for love?
We may still not have found love in Ireland but what could be better than to have found Barry Flanagan. Whose work already celebrated across the globe and who Enrique Juncosa has brought to Ireland. This man immaculately conceived as an artist. And with his modern engineering skills able to exploit his artistry without corners in any direction, in any material or shape. All things influence him and he gets inspiration anywhere. He interprets shadows by making them. Turns a straight line into magic and a curve into a miracle. The first to make art out of cloth shapes and holes out of pure space. Barry is a mysterious man, remains so and is admired by mysterious people like you. Welcome to the club. Thank you.