The works I know of by the British sculptor and printmaker Elisabeth Frink were her birds and animals, which always seems tough and scrawny, like the battered animal that eventually triumphs in Edwin Muir’s poem The Combat. Her horses, as well. But Woking’s Lightbox Gallery has a retrospective of her work (it runs through to Sunday 21st April) that marks the 20th anniversary of her death, and I realised that I’d pretty much missed the second half of her career.
The most striking sculptures in the exhibition are her large male figures (the ones pictured are in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park); one of the rooms has four of them walking abreast across the gallery floor, which certainly catches the eye. a fifth figure is seated at the side, looking on.
Why so striking? Partly just their scale, for they are larger than humans, perhaps seven-and-a-half feet tall rather than six, and also their mass; they are recognisably human but somehow more than human as well. Frink said she preferred sculpting the bodies of men to women because she found women’s bodies to be somehow formless – although she used this lack of form to her advantage in her commission for Salisbury Cathedral (Click on the image to enlarge).
Frink was a supporter of the charity Amnesty International, which works on behalf of prisoners of conscience, and her head and shoulders bust Goggle Head (below) uses mass in a more sinister way, concealing the face of a man behind goggles in a way that reminds me why aviator glasses are often used by people who wish to intimidate. The contrast with the quizzical and slightly vulnerable faces of the Walking sculptures at the top of this post is striking.
And the Lightbox – also the home to the Ingram Collection of modern British art – is free to enter, a welcome feature in these austere times.
Images from top to bottom: Top, from Martin Goodman’s blog So You Want To Be.A Writer; the Walking Madonna is from the blog Healing This Wounded Earth; Goggle Head is from the Tate. All are used with thanks.