Barry Flanagan was born in Prestatyn, North Wales. He studied architecture at Birmingham College of Art and Crafts and after spells at different colleges was accepted on the Vocational Diploma in Sculpture at St. Martin's School of Art in London in 1964. Flanagan graduated in 1966 and taught at St. Martin's School of Art and the Central School of Arts and Crafts, between 1967 and 1971. In 1991 was elected to the Royal Academy and he received the OBE.
Flanagan is perhaps best known for his dynamic, often monumental, bronze hares, which spring into life and were first exhibited in the early eighties. Flanagan fuses the everyday, the imaginary and fantastical to mold clay into animal forms, hares, elephants, dogs and horses - the horse is an archetype of classical sculpture. When asked about the use of the hare motif Barry would describe the magical experience of seeing a hare running on the Sussex Downs. This event prompted the first Leaping Hare sculpture which he conceived in 1979. For the Egyptians the hare represented life. In Chinese mythology the hare is the sole inhabitant of the moon and the symbol of immortality. This mercurial image of the hare has come to stand as surrogate for human existence and our relations to the animal world.
Flanagan represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1982. A major retrospective of his work was held at the Fundacion 'La Caixa' Madrid in 1993, touring to the Musee des Beaux-Arts, Nantes in 1994. Flanagan's bronze hares have also been exhibited in many outdoor spaces, most notably on Park Avenue in New York in 1995-6 and at Grant Park, Chicago in 1996.
In 2002, a major exhibition of his work was shown at the Kunsthalle Recklinghausen, Germany, and toured to the Musee d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain, Nice. In 2006, the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin held a major retrospective of his work, in association with Dublin City Art Gallery The Hugh Lane, which included ten large-scale bronzes installed along O'Connell Street and in Parnell Square. His work is held in public collections worldwide including MoMA New York, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Tate in London, and the Pappajohn Sculpture Garden.