Flanagan is perhaps best known for his exuberant, exhilarating and infectiously optimistic, often monumental, bronze hares. Variously inspired by the sight of a carcass acquired by his local butcher, the experience of seeing hares gambolling on the Sussex Downs, George Ewart Evans and David Thomson’s The Leaping Hare, published in 1972, as well as its significance in world mythology, the hare is a central metaphor in Flanagan’s oeuvre. A symbol of immortality, vitality, fertility, liberty and mischief, for Flanagan the hare was also a ‘rich and expressive form’, capable of carrying ‘the conventions of the cartoon and the attributes of the human into the animal world’ (‘Flanagan in Conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist’, Enrique Juncosa (ed.), exhibition catalogue Barry Flanagan: Sculpture 1965-2005, Dublin, Irish Museum of Modern Art and Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane, 2005, p. 65). The first of his trademark hares was conceived in 1979 and cast in bronze, an ancient metal to which, as ‘more of a modeller than a carver’ (op. cit., p. 61), Flanagan had long been attracted, seduced perhaps by the ‘bloom and drama’ he felt its dark surfaces lent his work. The variations and reoccurrences realised over the next thirty years depended, according to Flanagan, on the scale and identity of each sculpture’s base; ranging from classical to cultural forms, these included: a latticed pyramid, an upturned anvil, a bell, a rock, a ball and claw, cricket stumps and a model of the Empire State Building.
Unlike the majority of Flanagan’s husk of hares, ludic, lithe, leaping and often larger than life, Sculler is still, seated, perhaps in quiet contemplation, resignation or simply lost in reverie. Strangely mesmeric, Sculler seems content to drift for he is not in the possession of oars with which to propel the boat forward. Such ambiguity renders Sculler all the more intriguing. In contrast to the flamboyant energy and uncomplicated joy evinced by many of Flanagan’s hare sculptures, Sculler is peculiarly inscrutable, conceivably mournful or merely meditative, there is a sense, however, in which one feels instinctively that there is something not only cryptic, but also melancholic in Sculler’s splendid isolation. Sculler it seems, like Thinker and the subsequent variations thereof, is arguably more emphatically anthropomorphic than others in Flanagan’s oeuvre, an eloquent example of the artist’s idiosyncratic ability to use the hare as a vehicle to reflect on the complexity of human emotions.
Defining himself as ‘itinerant worker’, it is possible too to see Sculler as, in one way at least, a symbol of Flanagan’s own migrant status as for many years he split his time between Dublin and the Mediterranean, working on several occasions in foundries in Europe and America.