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Elisabeth Frink: A Retrospective at the Lightbox

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by Robyn Townsend (subscribe)
BA English student studying at the University of Birmingham. Reviewing theatre, films, books, local events. My Twitter is @robynwithayuh
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Frink's work is enchanting and impressive
Recently at The Lightbox in Woking was an exhibition of the work of Elisabeth Frink, widely considered to be the most celebrated female figurative sculptor in 20th Century Britain. This retrospective exhibition, the first in over 25 years, brought together many of Frink's most important works, in sculpture, painting and more. Her art was a vehicle for her emotions and thoughts on life, as well as a chance for her to comment on social and political issues.

The Lightbox, Woking


Frink has a fascination with the otherness of men, possibly stemming from her fondness of her father. She regarded the female for as not as interesting, and needed a vehicle for ideas, which the male form provided. In her somewhat imposing sculptures, she explores the idealisation of masculine courage, strength and heroism, but also violence and cruelty. Man can be both a hero or victim, and Frink expressed her feelings towards contradictory aspects of mankind, by using the male form as she felt it encompassed the subtle combination of sensuality and strength with vulnerability. He sculptures represent affection, desire, respect, dismay, fear and disgust and can therefore be seen as vessels of our human condition, or sensibilities.

A focus of the artist's work was heads. She created the Tribute Heads, which showed the inhumanity of men and were a tribute to those who died for their beliefs. Her famous Goggle Heads, and other head sculptures, began to tell stories of violent regimes and repression in places she visited, and have poignant political and social messages. However, her work inspired by 'The Green Man', focuses more on the idea of rebirth and renewal, as the story tells the tale of the man who dies in winter only to return in spring. For Frink, as she was diagnosed with cancer, this was a meaningful and thoughtful topic.

Frink also sculpted many animal forms. She was deeply interested in the link between animals, such as horses and dogs, and humans. Their loyalty and dependency, and the intimate bond
that could be formed, was something she tried to show in her artwork. She also admired the hierarchy in the animal kingdom, and the parameters that she felt humans had lost; her work featuring baboons and men focussed on this theme. Her fascination with flying, and the way man conquered it yet is subject to the vulnerability of falling, is represented in the spiky sculptures of birds she created. These at the same time reflect her personal, domestic traumas of WW2.

My personal favourites that were displayed in the exhibition, were 'Walking Madonna', usually found outside Salisbury Cathedral and who seems to stride with a bold gait, and who Frink was inspired to create by her convent education; you can almost hear the rustling of skirts. Frink's commissioned work in both sculpture and paintings and design was equally as admirable. She created an eagle design for the Ritva Man label by Mike Ross, and the collection included a jumper featuring the image. A collection of buffalo sculptures had been commissioned by Sir Norman Foster's Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, and Frink had been inspired by the classic Chinese art of Sung and Chou Dynasties, taking care because she knew those who viewed these pieces would be familiar with the creatures. Amongst all her work, my very favourite sculpture was Leonardo's Dog II, and it's miniature. The artist was inspired when she visited Loire Valley in the 1980s, and discovered it was where Da Vinci spent his last days. A medieval stone dog chained to door gave her the idea for this seated dog she then recreated in miniature, to be sold to support Great Ormond Street Hospital.

If you get the chance to see some of Elisabeth Frink's work, and learn more about her as an artist and her influences, I urge you to take it, and be impressed and educated by this talented woman's range of artwork.
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Why? Elisabeth Frink's range of artwork is inspiring and deeply interesting
When: 19. February 21. April, 2013
Where: The Lightbox, Chobham Road Woking, Surrey, GU21 4AA
Cost: Free Entry, donations welcome
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