The Lightbox Woking hosts major retrospective of sculptor Elisabeth Frink

By Richard Moss | 01 March 2013

Exhibition preview: Elisabeth Frink: A Retrospective, The Lightbox, Woking, until April 21 2013

a photograph of a bold, carved eagle
Elisabeth Frink, Eagle Lectern (1962)© The Elisabeth Frink Estate
She may not be quite as big a name in 20th century British sculpture as Barbara Hepworth or Henry Moore, but Elisabeth Frink’s sculptures are just as recognisable.

Horses, foxes and dogs, her powerful figure heads and her standing and leaping men with their rough-hewn, tactile surfaces have become some of the most identifiable and admired sculptures of the 20th century. This welcome retrospective explores their power and their popularity. 

Bringing together many of the artist’s most important works as well as her photography, correspondence and personal items, the exhibition examines how Frink explored the very nature of humanity through the male form and produced a series of insightful sculptures of dogs, horses and other animals. 

Elisabeth Frink (1930-1993) emerged during the 1950s as part of the “next generation” of post-war sculptors, whose number included Eduardo Paolozzi, Lynn Chadwick and Kenneth Armitage.

It was this group who turned away from the abstraction of Hepworth and the monumental forms of Moore towards a more spikily abstract figurative approach that Herbert Read famously described as having the “geometry of fear”.

a photo of a bronze staue of male figure with white face
Elisabeth Frink, Riace Figure III, 1986.© The Elisabeth Frink Estate
Frink’s work could be described as expressionist. But with its granular surfaces and graceful figurative forms reminiscent of Giacometti, her work was at once accessible and radical. Like her peers, it seemed to reflect some of the pains – and fears – felt by people during the post-war period, and it established her as a powerful new talent. 

As the sixties ushered in a tendency to abstraction and assemblage in British sculpture, Frink remained fascinated by carving and figurative art and the recurring forms of men, animals and birds. She continued her explorations into great themes such as aggression, vulnerability, suffering and struggle. As a long-time supporter of Amnesty International, these remained topics close to her heart.

The exhibition, which includes some rarely seen works from Frink’s early years at Guildford School of Art (1946-1949), offers the chance to experience some of the defining works from the fifties, including Bird (1952), which introduced the bird sculptures that would occupy her over the next two decades. 

Other key works include Walking Madonna (1981) – Frink’s only full scale image of a female – and the famous Riace Figures, a set of four strikingly thuggish male sculptures inspired by the pair of fifth century BC sculptures (the Riace Bronzes), discovered off the southern coast of Italy in the 1970s.

Peter Murray, Guest Curator and Executive Director of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where many of her works can be seen, describes the exhibition as a “timely reminder of the strength and relevance” of Frink’s sculpture.

“Lis ploughed her own furrow and sought not critical acclaim or high auction prices but to portray, with integrity, the dignity of animals and the complexity of humanity," he says.

“Her figures portray human frailty and strength; the barbarism of corrupted leaders and the quiet strength of those in resistance.”

Supported by the Henry Moore Foundation with major works loaned by the Ingram Collection of Modern British Art, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Tate, The Elisabeth Frink Estate and private lenders, this is a valuable chance to appraise one of the major British sculptors of the 20th century.

  • Open 10.30am-5pm (11am-5pm Sunday, closed Monday). Admission free. Follow the gallery on Twitter @TheLightbox.

More pictures:

a photograph of a sculpted male head
Elisabeth Frink, In Memoriam III, 1983.© The Elisabeth Frink Estate
a photograph of a sculpture of a male head with golden goggles
Elisabeth Frink, Goggle Head, 1969.© The Elisabeth Frink Estate
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