Dame Elisabeth Jean Frink
14 November 1930 – 18 April 1993 was an English sculptor and printmaker
Elisabeth Frink was born on 14th November 1930 at The Grange in Great Thurlow, a village and civil parish in the then St Edmundsbury district of Suffolk, England.
The Second World War, which broke out shortly before Frink’s ninth birthday, provided context for some of her earliest artistic works.
Growing up near a military airfield in Suffolk, she heard bombers returning from their internecine missions and on one occasion was forced to hide under a hedge to avoid the machine gun attack of a German fighter plane.
Her early drawings, from the period before she attended arts school in London, have a powerful apocalyptic flavour: themes include wounded birds and falling men.
During the course of the war Frink was evacuated with her mother and brother Tim to Exmouth, Devon where she attended Southlands Church of England School.
Frink studied at the Guildford School of Art and at the Chelsea School of Art
She was part of a post war group of British sculptors, dubbed the Geometry of Fear school.
Frink’s subject matter included men, birds, dogs, horses and religious motifs, but very seldom any female forms.
Although she made many drawings and prints, she is best known for her bronze outdoor sculpture, which has a distinctive cut and worked surface.
In the 1960s Frink’s continuing fascination with the human form was evident in a series of falling figures and winged men.
While living in France from 1967 to 1970, she began a series of threatening, monumental male heads, known as the goggled heads.
On returning to England, she focused on the male nude, barrel-chested, with mask-like features, attenuated limbs and a pitted surface, for example Running Man
Frink’s sculpture, and her lithographs and etchings created as book illustrations, drew on archetypes expressing masculine strength, struggle and aggression.
The sculpture of St Edmund, was commissioned by the West Suffolk County Council to mark the end of its independent administration prior to the establishment of the Suffolk County Council in 1974. Our statue of St Edmund was unveiled on 17th July 1976 by the Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk, the Earl of Stradbroke.
St Edmund photographed by John Hughes
But of course, in Bury St Edmunds, we know the work of Elisabeth Frink in the shape of St Edmund, who stands in the great churchyard, keeping watch over the Norman Tower.
In 1984 she explained that she “focused on the male because to me he is a subtle combination of sensuality and strength with vulnerability”.
Frink died from cancer on 18 April 1993, aged 62, in Blandford Forum, Dorset. Stephen Gardiner, Frink’s official biographer, argued that this final sculpture was appropriate: “This awesome work, beautiful, clear and commanding, a vivid mirror-image of the artist’s mind and spirit, created against fearful odds, was a perfect memorial for a remarkable great individual.”