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Bob Flanagan; Artist’s Works Explored Pain

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles artist Bob Flanagan, whose writings and performance art testified to the pleasure he found in pain, has succumbed to cystic fibrosis after a lifelong battle.

Flanagan, 43, a self-described masochist, died Thursday at Long Beach Memorial Hospital. By surviving as long as he did, he clearly beat the odds against the notoriously lethal childhood disease.

When he was 14, he was the first poster child for the North Orange County chapter of the national Cystic Fibrosis Research Foundation. Back then, he received daily medication and treatment to drain and control the thick mucus that is symptomatic of the disease.

Most nights he slept in a mist tent to ease breathing, because cystic fibrosis attacks the lungs. His younger sister, Patricia, died of the disease in 1979 at age 21.

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Thin to the point of frailty, eyes weighed down by apparent weariness, and with sparse, unruly hair, Flanagan was best known for his critically acclaimed installation, “Visiting Hours.”

Writing in The Times in 1992, reviewer David Pagel called “Visiting Hours” the most “intensely gripping and profoundly human installation-cum-performance this critic has ever pondered, tried to escape and endured.”

The installation included a detailed mock hospital room and various devices making Flanagan’s love of pain evident. A wall of video monitors depicted Flanagan’s frail body being subjected to what some critics have described as torture.

Others saw it as healing.

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“Bob’s work was not about bizarre sadomasochistic rituals, but about the possibility of affirming life without denying its dark contradictions,” said Laura Trippi, who curated a New York showing of “Visiting Hours” in 1994. “He used art as a healing force in his own struggle with CF, and conveyed this to audiences through poems, performances, installations and sculptures of tremendous dignity and wit.”

Flanagan, a native of New York City, grew up in Glendora. He once said that all of his work is “basically autobiographical,” and that although he was trained in traditional art, he grew dissatisfied with painting.

He gave public lectures in tandem with his dominatrix lover and collaborator Sheree Rose, and usually appeared tethered to a small respirator.

He also published five books and was once a stand-up comic with the improvisational theater group, The Groundlings. Those routines gradually became performances featuring acts of masochism with Rose, a video artist.

When asked if he ever intentionally set out to shock his audience, he answered: “Not really . . . to explore, to record, to analyze.”

He is survived by his parents, Robert C. and Catherine Flanagan of Chandler, Ariz., and two brothers, Timothy, of San Francisco, and John, of Merced.


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