Frink's vision of a fleeting world

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By Jeremy Miles

Dame Elisabeth Frink loved Dorset. She made it her home for the last 16 years of her life.  When she died of cancer at her beautiful country house at Woolland near Blandford in 1993, she let it be known that she wanted the county to be the permanent home of her considerable archive.

With unfailing commitment her son, Lin Jammet, has fought to make that dream come true. A battle to establish a permanent base for Frink’s artistic legacy at Sherborne House continues.

Meanwhile Jammet and the Frink Estate have brought a remarkable free exhibition of her works to Bournemouth University.

The show called simply Elisabeth Frink...this fleeting World offers a unique opportunity for a new generation to engage with the astonishing output of one of the great sculptors of the 20th century. 

Containing sculptures, drawings, original prints and plasters as well as books and photographs from her studio and archive collections, it is being displayed on the University’s Talbot Campus throughout Poole House and the Thomas Hardy Suite.

For the next few months at least Frink’s head-turning works, including wonderful examples of her Goggle Heads, Green Men and fascinating bronzes, will be constant companions for Bournemouth students using the main foyer and refectory. The show is also open to the public and it is hoped that, though it officially ends in late July, it will ultimately be extended over two years with more works being brought in on the theme of movement to coincide with the 2012 Olympics.

The exhibition is already huge. Indeed Frink Estate curator Annette Ratuszniak says she can think of no other free display in Britain today that contains so many works by a single artist.

 She is certain that Frink herself would have approved .“Lis would have loved having this here, free for the students to live with and free for the public to see. It’s what she liked more than anything – getting her work out and around people.” 

Ratuszniak, says she consciously planned  ….this fleeting World in a way that would maximise its impact on a university campus.

“I thought about the students and the lives they are going to be leading. I chose lots of pictures of Lis working in the studio, solving problems and going through the process of making her art. I hung the exhibition around that.

“I wanted things that young people could relate. I wanted them to see both the working process and the works that came out of it.”

She believes that the work engages directly with many contemporary concerns. Frink was an artist who was acutely environmentally aware years before the green movement went mainstream, she was also a fervent supporter of Amnesty International  

Not only that but by the time of her death at the age of 63 she was regarded as a pioneer among female artists. So it was that the  three-times married sculptor, who again and again created studies of masculinity, become a feminist icon. Frink certainly had the right credentials. She had not only fought to establish her artistic authority in a largely male dominated world but did so while sticking doggedly to her principles. Some critics thought her rather old fashioned because she hadn’t  turned to abstraction in the sixties. For Frink though there was only one way and that involved distinctly figurative work. Ultimately her integrity won through.

Her subject matter basically never changed. Her figures of men, animals and birds explored the ambiguities of human relationships, injustice, impermanence, power and fragility

 The daughter of a cavalry officer, Frink learnt to ride and shoot by the time she was five. Her tomboy revelries however gave way to deep-seated anxieties during the Second World War. 

Living near an air-base she witnessed crippled bombers, riddled with bullets and sometimes in flames, crashing into a mass of tangled and charred metal as the crew desperately tried to make it home. As a 15-year-old she was haunted by newsreel images she had seen of the Nazi death camp at Belsen. 

These experiences left an indelible mark on her soul… and her art which often addressed issues of violence and war. However she was equally fascinated by the mythology and beauty of the natural world and the human capacity for compassion and kindness.

Encountering the extraordinarily emotive power of Frink’s work is a tangibly moving experience. Annette Ratuszniak believes it will lead to some interesting creative responses from students at Bournemouth.

“Having something in a place for a year or two gives time for other people to become involved, for their creativity to grow out of it. I hope that in the second year there will be an opportunity for students work, their responses to the art on show, to be displayed  alongside the Frink.” 

Bournemouth University’s resident curator Julie Herring sees it as a great opportunity for the university. “We are very lucky to have such important work here.  It’s a great experience for the students and of course the public.

She has already invited community art groups to make special visits to the show. “They can come in and engage with the work, do drawing activities that kind of thing. It’s particularly interesting because there are so many different mediums  - sculpture, watercolour, drawing and printmaking - from just one artist,” she told me.

Both Herring and Ratuszniak are thrilled that, accompanying the main show, is an exhibition in the University’s Atrium Gallery featuring some rare and atypical watercolours produced by Frink to illustrate a children’s book. The untitled story, originally written by the Swedish actress and film director Mai Zetterling  traces the adventures of an Inuit boy and a wolf called Kib  as they go in search of a magical Crystal Castle.

Zetterling and her husband, the writer David Hughes, were good friends of Lis and her second husband Ted Pool. For a number of years in the 1970s  they lived near each other in the Camargue. It was perhaps inevitable that the two creative and like-minded women should work together.

“They were both very aware of environmental changes and how the habitats of so many animals and the way of life of traditional communities could be threatened,” said Ratuszniak.   “Sadly the book was never published and the wonderful watercolours  that Lis did have been sitting in the archive for years. This is only the second time they have ever been seen in public.”

*Elizabeth Frink,,,this fleeting World runs at Bournemouth University’s Poole House and Thomas Hardy Suite initially until July 30. Her watercolours can be seen in the Atrium Gallery until April 2. Further Information and map at www.bournemouth.ac.uk/frink

ly© Jeremy Miles 2017