‘I use anatomy to suit myself’Elisabeth Frink was born in Suffolk and later educated at a Roman Catholic convent school in Exmouth.  She was a student at Guildford School of Art (1947-49) before moving to the Chelsea School of Art for four years where her tutors included the sculptor Bernard Meadows.A precocious student, at the age of just 22 Frink exhibited works at the Beaux Arts Gallery, London and her sculpture Bird was purchased by the Tate Gallery.  Frink remained at Chelsea on the teaching staff and also at St.Martin’s School of Art until 1962.

As a sculptor Frink received the first of her major public commissions in 1957, being the Blind Beggar and Dog from the Bethnal Green Housing Scheme and Wild Boar from Harlow New Town.  She continued to receive public commissions throughout her career culminating in her 13-foot-tall bronze figure of the Risen Christ (1992) for the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool.

During the period 1965-67 Frink taught at the Royal College of Art and also embarked upon her printmaking career at that time, mainly lithographs and etchings.  Her art, both in her prints and sculpture, did not adhere to any particular artistic style but from about the 1970s onwards it was frequently figurative in form. When asked in 1985 if she would ever return to abstraction Frink replied

No. I have too much conviction in what I am doing as a figurative sculptor.  I am too bound up with animal and human forms in a sense that I don’t use anatomy strictly as you see it, but as youfeel it; I use anatomy to suit myself.

Men, dogs, horses and birds were constant subject-matter throughout Frink’s career. She modelled, cast in plaster and then carved the plaster, much as Henry Moore had done, to achieve a tougher surface when the plaster was cast in bronze. Unlike Moore, however, she rarely worked with the female form:

I have focused on the male because to me he is a subtle combination of sensuality and strength with vulnerability, Frink is quoted as saying in the catalogue raisonné of her work (Elisabeth Frink: Sculpture, Harpvale, 1984).

Her figures have dignity, mystery and a simplicity of form which place them apart from us: they seem to be focused elsewhere. The animals demonstrate her deep understanding of their state, for she encapsulates their innate and individual characteristics.

Frink’s drawing and graphic work followed the same themes, being executed with the economy of means and feeling for surface texture that is to be found in her three-dimensional work.

As one of Britain’s leading sculptors, Frink received many public accolades including a C.B.E. (1969), being made a Royal Academician (1977), a Dame of the British Empire (1982) and a Companion of Honour (1992).  Her sculpture, drawings and prints are represented in many public collections.

Elisabeth Frink died in 1993. Her obituary in The Times noted the three essential themes in her work as the nature of Man; the “horseness” of horses; and the divine in human form.

 

Elisabeth Frink

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Dame Elisabeth Frink (1930-1993) was born in Suffolk. She studied under Bernard Meadows and Willi Soukop and became one of Britain's...