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The humanism of Dame Elisabeth Frink

Report by David Warden

The Dorset Museum & Art Gallery in Dorchester is presenting a major exhibition of the work of Dame Elisabeth Frink CH DBE RA – an English sculptor and printmaker – until 21 April 2024. Entitled Elisabeth Frink: A View from Within, it's the first exhibition to focus on the significant body of work produced by Frink (1930-1993) at Woolland – her large country house and studio near Blandford in Dorset – between 1976 and 1993. It explores her artistic process, personal life and the profound influences that shaped her work: human conflict and our relationship with animals and the natural world.

Humanism and human rights

Frink's subject matter reflected her love of poetry, music and reading as well as her deeply- held humanist beliefs. She held strong ethical views about personal responsibility and the need to respect all peoples and cultures. Her humanism was expansive enough to accept commissions for religious works, including Risen Christ for Liverpool Cathedral. For her, the sculpture symbolised rebirth rather than anything supernatural. Throughout her career, she reflected on human rights and freedom from persecution. As a teenager, she had watched news reports from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Many of her works are disturbing figures representing menace, aggression and human vulnerability. A major outdoor work in Dorchester represents the execution of Catholics in1594. Frink was a supporter of Amnesty International.

The fragility of life was a recurring theme in her work. She spoke frankly about death, saying: "This is not a morbid interest. I just recognise it and this gives life an urgency and acts as a driving force for my sculpture". Both her sacred and humanist sculptures symbolise dignity and resilience in the face of loss.

Further information

Acknowledgement: This report is based on texts provided at the exhibition. All photos by David Warden.

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