A number of artists belonging to the early post-war generation naturally dealt with the atrocities of the largest global combat ever. Puzzled by the absurdity of never before seen violence, they created powerful artworks woven with philosophical questions regarding the future of mankind. One of the prolific figures dealing with those subject matters was British sculptress Elisabeth Frink.
A major exhibition currently on display at The Sainsbury Centre titled Elisabeth Frink: Humans and Other Animals is the largest showing of her work in twenty-five years.
The curator Calvin Winner was eager to show with precision the major themes in the four-decades-long practice of Elisabeth Frink, with a special take on the early and quite a radical production from the 1950s largely influenced by artists such as Rodin and Giacometti. The artist’s recurrent occupation was the relationship between humans and animals, so she continuously explored the specifics of the interdependence of the two species.
It can be said that Frink used the animals as strong metaphors of an array of emotions and states caused by WW II and the Cold War.
Over one hundred and thirty works made by Elisabeth Frink are contrasted by other modern masters such as Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Auguste Rodin, Francis Bacon, Germaine Richier and Louise Bourgeois, as well as two contemporary artists Douglas Gordon and Rebecca Warren.
One of the crucial early series called Bird from 1952 is on display; twenty-one of these works are presented together with animalistic works by Bourgeois and Richier. The bird-form became a signifier for menace, fear, and panic, and in later works, it was transformed in a man-bird hybrid such as the Birdman from 1959; this piece was inspired by the adventurer or the self-styled birdman Léo Valentin, who died after attempting to fly with his hand-made wings.
A series of Frink’s Goggle Heads produced in between 1967 and 1969 and Tribute Heads from 1970s-80s are on display as well. The Goggle Heads were based partly on the image of Mohamed Oufkir, a military man and inaugurator of state terror in post-independent Morocco during the 1960s and 1970s, while the Tribute Heads are honoring the victims of brutality.
In relation with these series, is the one called Riace warriors through which Frink dealt with the notion of the warrior. These works demonstrate the artist’s unique treatment of ambiguity of a warrior as the aggressor and a brutalized victim.
On display are also works Mirage I and Mirage II from 1969 which are presented outside in the Sainsbury Centre’s Sculpture Park.
This outstanding survey of Elisabeth Frink's practice surely underlines the significance of the animals in her work, but it goes further in posing the question can we humans transcend our own limitations in order to understand the other species and finally - ourselves.
Elisabeth Frink: Humans and Other Animals will be on display at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, UK until 24 February 2019.
Featured images: Elisabeth Frink - Bird, 1952. Photograph Ken Adlard © Frink Estate and Archive; Elisabeth Frink photographed by Edward Pool, c.1964-5. © Frink Estate and Archive; Dorset History Centre. All images courtesy the Sainsbury Centre.