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Blazing a Trail / Dame Elisabeth Frink R.A. (British, 1930-1993) Head 50.8 cm. (20 in.) high (Conceived in 1967)
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With Waddington Galleries, London, where acquired by
Private Collection, U.K.
London, Waddington Galleries, Elisabeth Frink: Recent Sculpture, 1967 (another cast)
London, Waddington Galleries, I, II, III, Elisabeth Frink: Sculpture, 11 October-4 November 1972 (another cast)
London, Royal Academy, Elisabeth Frink: Sculpture and Drawings 1952-1984, 8 February-24 March 1985 (another cast)
Salisbury Cathedral and Close, Salisbury Library and Galleries, Elisabeth Frink: A Certain Unexpectedness, May-June 1997 (another cast)
Bruce Laughton, 'Elisabeth Frink', Arts Review, 9 December 1967
Jill Willder (ed.), Elisabeth Frink: Catalogue Raisonné, Harpvale Press, Salisbury, 1984, p.172, cat.no.166 (ill.b&w, another cast)
Sarah Kent, Elisabeth Frink: Sculpture and Drawings 1952-84, Royal Academy, London, 1985
Annette Downing, Elisabeth Frink: Sculptures, Graphic Works, Textiles, Salisbury Festival and Wiltshire County Council Publication, 1997
Annette Ratuszniak (ed.), Elisabeth Frink: Catalogue Raisonné of Sculpture 1947-93, Farnham, 2013, p.110, cat.no.FCR192 (ill.b&w, another cast)
One of the most effective themes throughout Frink's sculpture is her examination of the dichotomies inherent to humankind. Especially our predisposition to at once be tender and vulnerable, yet also our ability to be violent and merciless.
In the age of post-war unease in which Frink came to prominence many sculptors of her generation shared such concerns. This loose group were branded together by Herbert Read under the term of 'Geometry of Fear'. Often their works manifested not in human forms, the iconography of the figure was too academic to display the desired brutishness or despair, but rather in animal forms. Lynn Chadwick looked to winged insects, Bernard Meadows to scuttling crabs, and Frink to stalking birds. Her anthropomorphic avian forms of the early 1950s either threatened their jutting beaks, or cowered under raised wing, and on occasion both simultaneously.
As the decade wore on and into the '60s, Frink's birds developed into birdmen or winged figures as she increasingly explored the ability of the (always male) human body to effectively describe the human experience. These works are undoubtedly figural. However, Frink sculpts the body to a surface which is wrought with scarred texture, and she distorts proportions of trunks and limbs. Her ambition is not to render the human physiology, but again to display the opposing forces within human nature. There are two major works of the period in which Frink achieved this to high acclaim. Firstly, Blind Beggar and his Dog of 1958 in which a spindly man is heavily dependent on his canine aid yet strides confidently forward due to his trust, and secondly Judas of 1963, in which a powerful man stands resolutely upright, yet raises his arms in a protective manner as he has been blinded by his own treachery.
For Frink, the apex of her explorations of man's contradictions dawns in 1967 with the arrival of her acclaimed Goggle Head series, to which the present work belongs. This series draws on several origins; the head gear of fighter pilots, the authoritative motorcyclists of the French police as well as the militant General Oufkir, frequently depicted in the press at the time wearing reflective sunglasses. Combined, these figures represent instances of man's danger, power, and menace. Yet Frink awards these figures of reprehension with a stylised treatment, elevating their presence. She adjusts her application and working of plaster, refining the surface dramatically so that the bronze is smooth, and she polishes their eyewear so we cannot scrutinise their gaze, only our own in the reflection.
In so doing she iconises the brutality of our species, in a manner not unlike Francis Bacon's painting of the period. Frink knew and admired Bacon, and he in turn enjoyed Frink's brilliant wit. Like Bacon's battered and bruised portraits, Frinks' Goggle Heads are, as has been recently noted, 'grotesque and bizarrely kitsch manifestations, an archetypal man oozing glamour, sex, death and nihilism. They are transgressions, and one is unsure whether to be appalled or turned on by them!' (Calvin Winner, exh.cat. Elisabeth Frink Humans and Other Animals, Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, 2018, p.36)
Frink's Goggle Heads confirmed her resolve to pursue figuration and are considered 'her most original and significant creations' (ibid., p.35). They would be followed by the similarly styled but introspective Tribute Heads, which act as their counterparts, and naturalistic figuration would remain her chosen mode throughout the rest of her career. It should be noted that this decision, in a period through which abstraction in both sculpture and painting was highly celebrated, further aligns Frink with the great figurative painters of post-war Britain.