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Elisabeth Frink: The Presence of Sculpture
Focusing, for the first time, on the challenges of making work, on the one hand privately and, on the other, on commission for outdoor public display, this exhibition brings together more than 70 of Elisabeth Frink’s sculptures, plasters and drawings, alongside photographs of the artist at work and an evocative recreation of her final studio
Studio International spoke to the exhibition curators about Frink’s unusual working process and the bringing together of this major survey show.
Coming on to the scene in the postwar years, Elisabeth Frink (1930-93) quickly began receiving commissions to create public sculptures for social housing, religious buildings, new towns and urban developments. All but one of these remain in situ today. Known particularly for her dogs, horses and birdmen (hybrid or shape-shifting characters), Frink created sculptures that are expressive, distinctive and timeless.
In this major survey exhibition, co-curated by Annette Ratuszniak, from the Frink Estate and Archive, and Neil Walker, head of visual arts programming at Nottingham Lakeside Arts, the development of Frink’s commissions, in line with her own personal themes, to which she remained committed, is traced. Always working unassisted, Frink would first create a wire armature, before adding plaster, which she would then work back with a rasp and chisel. Seeing the scale of some of the pieces – including Horse (1980), for which the gallery windows had to be removed to bring it in – one can’t help but stand back in awe.
An important inclusion in the exhibition is Frink’s first public commission, a concrete sculpture of St John Bosco (1952), which, until recently, was deemed lost or destroyed. It turned up earlier this year after the current owner realised it might be a Frink and contacted Beaux Arts gallery to look into the matter. Although it has lost one of the three original figures, the piece has otherwise fared well and, following conservation, stands proud as a testament to the sculptor’s skill: at the time of the commission, Frink was still a student at Chelsea School of Art.
Another highlight of the exhibition is the recreation of Frink’s final studio, at Woolland in Dorset, based on extensive photographic documentation. Alongside her crates and tools and plasters, there’s the chair that the subjects of her portraits, including Alec Guinness, once sat on, and, to complete the evocation, a soundtrack of music is being played, comprising classical pieces known to have been favoured by the artist.
Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham Lakeside Arts
25 November 2015 – 28 February 2016
Interview by ANNA McNAY
Filmed by MARTIN KENNEDY