Philip Flanagan was born in Belfast in 1960 and grew up in an artistic household – his father is the painter T.P. Flanagan – where artists, writers and actors were everyday visitors. Of these friends, the young Flanagan particularly admired sculptors Deborah Brown and F.E. William and so he determined to study sculpture. He did a foundation year at the Belfast College of Art and this was followed by studies in the sculpture school at Camberwell School of Art in London.
Flanagan first came to public attention in the early 1990s with a number of commissioned portraits of prominent Irish actors, writers, musicians, politicians and others.
In 1996 Flanagan moved to County Fermanagh (his father’s family had been long settled in the area) where he was soon influenced by the soft light and water-strewn landscape for which the county is so well known. It is not surprising, therefore, that the landscape there should now begin to define his work, both as a sculptor and, later, as a painter.
His first major pictures, made in 2001, were based on pebbles and stones found at the water’s edge on Lough Erne, and he named them ‘Bullersten’ paintings. The word Bullersten is Scandinavian in origin and is used to describe a large stone in a stream that produces sound when moved. It has to do with the natural frequency of objects, and the lines that Flanagan draws around the perimeter of shapes and forms in these paintings echo this frequency.
Alongside the later Bullersten pictures another, small group of works, which he named ‘The forest Walk series’ began to emerge. The forest walks refer to the artist’s rambles in Navar Forest, not far from his home. These paintings record the changing light on the quarry and how it influences the colours of the stone.
A third stage in this line of development, the Concrete Block pictures, emerged more or less contiguously with the Forest Walk pieces. Having been absorbed by the landscape around him, Flanagan now turned his attention to a man-made object, a block of concrete, normally used as building material. The actual block in question is about fifteen by thirty by five centimetres in size and a slight moulding on one side is the only relief to an otherwise nondescript surface. Yet the block lends a formal architectural quality of space to the pictures it has inspired, although beyond this, in the execution of the pictures, there remains an emotional attachment to both space and ‘place’.
The images in all three series are built up in layers – perhaps as many as fifteen or twenty – of often translucent acrylic paint each contained within the configuration of rectangular shapes that give an architectural structure to the composition. The layering also acts as a source of energy in the resulting image.
In the last twenty years Flanagan has gained a reputation as a painter and sculptor, with works in major collections in Ireland, Britain and America.