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Elisabeth Frink retrospective charts fears and concerns of modern life

PUBLISHED: 07:15 18 October 2018 | UPDATED: 07:15 18 October 2018

Elisabeth Frink exhibition preview at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, Norfolk

Elisabeth Frink exhibition preview at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, Norfolk

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Elisabeth Frink was one of East Anglia’s leading artists, who died in 1993 at the young age of 62. The Sainsbury Centre in Norwich has put together an extensive retrospective of her work. Arts editor Andrew Clarke looks at the work on display.

Elisabeth Frink photographed  in her studio, 1964 Photo: Edward PoolElisabeth Frink photographed in her studio, 1964 Photo: Edward Pool

The Sainsbury Centre, one of the leading national art galleries, unveils a major new exhibition of work by East Anglian sculptor Elisabeth Frink.

This major retrospective will feature more than 130 works by the artist and will be the largest showing of Frink’s work in 25 years.

The exhibition, curated by Calvin Winner and Tania Moore, will provide new perspectives and examine her radical and bohemian beginnings in 1950s London, reappraising one of the most important British sculptors of the twentieth century.

Elisabeth Frink exhibition preview at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, NorfolkElisabeth Frink exhibition preview at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, Norfolk

Frink was born in Great Thurlow, Suffolk, in 1930, and spent her formative years in war-time East Anglia. She studied at the Guildford School of Art (1946–49) and at the Chelsea School of Art (1949–53) and remained resolutely an expressionist figurative artist against the prevailing trends of her time.

Frink’s work will be placed alongside that of other modern masters, most notably Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Auguste Rodin, Francis Bacon, Germaine Richier and Louise Bourgeois. In addition, work by two contemporary artists, Douglas Gordon and Rebecca Warren, will also provide a wider context to explore themes important to Frink.

The exhibition will trace the evolution of Frink’s work over four decades, presenting the major themes while paying significant attention to her early work and those who inspired her. The relationship between humans and animals was central for Frink and it was a theme she returned to throughout her life. While offering exciting contemporary possibilities, both metaphorically and directly, she was conscious of the fact that animals have appeared in art from the very earliest times and their relationship with humans and animals is interdependent.

Elisabeth Frink exhibition preview at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, NorfolkElisabeth Frink exhibition preview at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, Norfolk

Frink rose to prominence while still a student at Chelsea College of Art in 1952, when she had her first major gallery exhibition and won a prize in the international competition for the Monument to the Unknown Political Prisoner. During this period, she created a series of expressionist bird sculptures, which for her, evoked ‘strong feelings of panic, tension, aggression and predatoriness’.

Powerful examples of this series of sculptures will include Bird (1952), purchased by Tate from Frink’s first major exhibition and Vulture (1952). For Frink the bird-form became an avatar evoking an extreme sense of menace, fear and panic.

The bird forms evolved into man-bird hybrids, falling or spinning through space. These works were inspired by vivid childhood memories of living next to a World War Two airfield where Frink witnessed planes and pilots falling from the sky.

Elisabeth Frink exhibition preview at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, NorfolkElisabeth Frink exhibition preview at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, Norfolk

Frink was constantly responding to current events. For instance, the ‘Space Race’ was a crucial theme, with Frink’s helmeted figures Spinning Man I and II (1960). Associated drawings echo images of early cosmonauts such as Yuri Gagarin, the first human in outer space.

Frink’s most famous and unique theme is a series of Goggle Heads (1967-69) and Tribute Heads (1970s-80s). Ten of these larger-than-life-size bronze heads will be presented in the exhibition, the first time so many have been displayed together. Like other great 20th century artists such as Bacon and Picasso, Frink explores man as both aggressor and victim. The Goggle Heads were based in part on the likeness of Mohamed Oufkir, who during the 1960s and 70s became a notorious mastermind of state orchestrated terror in post-independent Morocco. In contrast, the Tribute Heads commemorate the victims of acts of brutality or martyrs to a cause.

Frink’s iconic Running Man, a theme she explored between 1978 and 1980, represents passive resistance and humanity’s ability to strive against adversity.

Elisabeth Frink exhibition preview at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, NorfolkElisabeth Frink exhibition preview at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, Norfolk

Elisabeth Frink: Humans and Other Animals will feature a number of the artist’s final works, influenced by the ancient, folkloric figure of the Green Man. Drawing solace just before her death in 1993 this motif’s associations with rebirth and fresh life, this section will evidence how the natural world was a fertile source of inspiration at the core of Frink’s creative soul.

Elisabeth Frink: Humans and Other Animals is Sainsbury Centre until February 24 2019

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