Dame Elisabeth Frink, R.A.
- Dame Elisabeth Frink, R.A.
- Goggle Head
- signed and numbered 2/6
- height: 61cm.; 24in.
- Conceived in 1969, the present work is number 2 from an edition of 6.
Winchester, Great Courtyard, Elisabeth Frink: Sculpture in Winchester, 1981, un-numbered catalogue (another cast);
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Elisabeth Frink, Sculpture and Drawings 1952-1984, 8th February - 24th March 1985, cat. no.61, illustrated (another cast);
Salisbury, Salisbury Library and Galleries, Elisabeth Frink: A Certain Unexpectedness, 10th May - 7th June 1997 (another cast).
Edward Lucie-Smith and Elisabeth Frink, Frink, A Portrait, Bloomsbury, London, 1994, illustrated p.61 (another cast);
Annette Ratuszniak (ed.), Elisabeth Frink, Catalogue Raisonné of Sculpture 1947-93, Lund Humphries in association with the Frink Estate and Beaux Arts, London, 2013, cat. no.FCR210, illustrated p.116 (another cast).
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When first confronted with Elisabeth Frink’s Goggle Heads, the sight of these polished ‘sunglasses’ on sculpture is totally unexpected, shocking even. One can be uncertain how to react, to admire or to critique? Above all, they invite intrigue and like the most engaging and timeless works of art, there is far more at work beyond the surface. On examining the sculpture further, one notices the slight smirk in the smile, the heavy features, the hard and imposingly solid shape of the head. Clearly greater meaning lies behind these goggled figures: ‘When I [Frink] moved to France I got interested in the Algerian War, which was then just only over. It still rumbled away, the horror of it. What really triggered the [Goggle Head] series were some rather extraordinary photographs of people like General Oufkir. They all hid behind dark glasses, and these became a symbol of evil for me. The title Goggle Heads was rather facetious, a way of dealing with the horror of the imagery' (Frink quoted in Edwin Mullins, The Art of Elisabeth Frink, Lund Humphries, London, 1972).
This concern with masculine power originates in large part from her childhood where there was a strong male presence. Her father was a professional soldier – a figure she idolised - and as she remarked, ‘men were very much part of my early life because of the army. I used to look up to them, and hero-worship them’ (Frink quoted in Edward Lucie-Smith and Elisabeth Frink, Frink, A Portrait, Bloomsbury, 1994, p.15). Growing up in proximity to men fighting in the Second World War, many of those she met being killed in action, subsequently fed into her work as a student at the Chelsea College of Art in the early 1950s. Although a generation younger, she was associated with the ‘geometry of fear’ sculptors who had served in the war such as Chadwick, Armitage, Paolozzi and Butler and who had exhibited to such international acclaim at the 1952 Venice Biennale. Much of the work Frink produced in this period also tapped into post-war feelings of anxiety and fear, notably her ‘bird’ sculptures, tense and predatory. However, her first figurative representation of male aggression, Warrior’s Head (1954), portrayed a noble soldier who commands respect. He wears an ancient helmet which links him to a classical past and implies that he is an archetypal hero. This admiration for the military was to be expected given her father’s profession however, in tracing Frink’s career, it is fascinating to see how her representations of the male give way to a more explicitly critical approach seen in such works as the present.
Goggle Heads were inspired by media coverage of Moroccan General Mohammed Oufkir, who had been accused of ordering the assassination in Paris of the exiled politician Ben Bark. Stripping any sense of male admiration, they emerged two years after Frink’s Soldier’s Heads of 1965, in which all traces of nobility or heroic ancestry were removed and replaced with brutal, scarred and mindless figures. Goggle Heads are no longer warriors or soldiers but sophisticated criminal types, their identities hidden behind polished goggles, displaying a bullish arrogance and suaveness. The double edged point of these glasses however, is that these men lack vision and they mask a vulnerability, as Peter Shaffer wrote: ‘the constant wearing of dark glasses always speaks of impotence to me: a fear of having scrutiny returned – the secret terror of the torturer’ (Elisabeth Frink catalogue raisonné, Harpvale Books, 1984, p.11). Goggle Heads are a direct attack on such individuals: ‘brainless, nasty people. A statement on my part about the cruelty and stupidity of repressive regimes and of the men who operated them’ (Frink quoted in Edward Lucie-Smith and Elisabeth Frink, op. cit., p.64).
After Goggle Heads followed Frink’s Tribute series in which the goggles are removed, revealing a more introverted and sensual masculine ideal. Silently suffering with down cast eyes, they epitomise endurance and stoicism (see lot 19) and in the latter stages of her career, her men develop still into a more positive ideal: horsemen (see lot 18) and naked figures – running, standing and seated – convey a sense of self-improvement, of conquering one’s own weaknesses rather than others. Through the continuous exploring of this theme, few artists have managed to comment so forcefully on the character of men – at best admirable and heroic, at worst cruel and destructive – as Frink through these monumental, compelling bronzes. In surveying her career, one sees the remarkable, unique and hugely significant contribution she has made to representations of the male in sculpture - not just in the 20th century but in its long and distinguished history.