ARTISTElizabeth Frink

Elizabeth Frink (1930 – 1993)

Having grown up during the Second World War in Suffolk, Elizabeth Frink would become one of the most important British post-war sculptors. Her father Captain Ralph Cuyler Frink, was a career officer in the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards and among the men of the cavalry regiment evacuated from Dunkirk in the early summer of 1940. Military airfields in Suffolk where she lived were targeted in WW2, in one instance, she was forced to hide under a hedge to avoid the machine gun attack of a German fighter plane. Her early drawings, from the period before she attended arts school in London, have a powerful apocalyptic flavour: themes include wounded birds and falling men. During the course of the war Frink was evacuated with her mother and brother Tim to Devon. She studied at the Guildford School of Art and Chelsea School of Art between 1946 and 1953, graduating with links to a group dubbed the Geometry of Fear School. She lived in France from 1967 to 1970, where she began the famous series of threatening, monumental male heads known as Goggle Heads. She returned to England making many drawings and prints as well as her best-known bronzes made by working back plasters with chisel and surform. Her fascination with the human form was highly regarded, and demanded tireless work to meet the needs of her busy commissioned work schedule. Although she made many drawings and prints, she is best known for her bronze outdoor sculpture, which has a distinctive cut and worked surface. This is created by her adding plaster to an armature which she then worked back into with a chisel and surform. This process contradicts the very essence of “modelling form” established in the modelling tradition and defined by Rodin’s handling of clay.

In the 1960s Frink’s continuing fascination with the human form was evident in a series of falling figures and winged men. While living in France from 1967 to 1970, she began a series of threatening, monumental male heads, known as the goggled heads. On returning to England, she focused on the male nude, barrel-chested, with mask-like features, attenuated limbs and a pitted surface, for example Running Man (1976; Pittsburgh, PA, Carnegie Mus. A.). Frink’s sculpture, and her lithographs and etchings created as book illustrations, drew on archetypes expressing masculine strength, struggle and aggression.

Her retrospective in 1982 was a success and spurred the art world to hold more exhibitions of Frink’s worth, with four solo exhibitions and several group ones coming in the following year. Tirelessly, Frink continued to accept commissions and sculpt, as well as serve on advisory committees, meet art students and pursue other public commitments.

Frink kept up a hectic pace of sculpting and exhibiting until early 1991, when an operation for cancer caused an enforced break. However, short weeks later Frink was again creating sculptures and preparing for solo exhibitions. In September, she underwent further surgery. Again, Frink did not let this hold her back, proceeding with a planned trip for exhibitions to New Orleans, Louisiana, and New York City. The exhibitions were a success, but Frink’s health was clearly deteriorating. Despite this, she was working on a colossal statue, Risen Christ, for Liverpool Cathedral. This sculpture would prove to be her last; just one week after its installation, Frink died from cancer on 18 April 1993, aged 62, in Dorset. Stephen Gardiner, Frink’s official biographer, argued that this final sculpture was appropriate: “This awesome work, beautiful, clear and commanding, a vivid mirror-image of the artist’s mind and spirit, created against fearful odds, was a perfect memorial for a remarkable great individual.”
Her Times obituary noted the three essential themes in her work as the nature of Man; the “horseness” of horses; and the divine in human form.