Hauser & Wirth Somerset’s
new Elisabeth Frink sculpture show Transformation turns out to be peculiarly apt for these troubled times.
The artist grew up in the Second World War and lived near an airfield, regularly witnessing burning planes falling from the sky and was profoundly affected by the first images released from Nazi concentration camps. Her lifetime’s work revealed a persistent preoccupation with conflict, injustice and man’s capacity for brutality.
The exhibition at Durslade merges Frink’s passion for nature and animals with this obsession with war and conflict. The miniature bronze ‘Bird’ appears aggressive and menacing despite its size, Vulture 1952 is hunched, waiting for its prey.
As the viewer moves through the galleries the animals transform into men, the semi-abstract head of ‘Soldier’ 1963 guards the door. A trio of heads are brutish and intimidating, the scarred face of Soldier’s Head 1V, reveals Frink's continued fascination with war and brutality.
In the late 60s Frink began working on a series of oversized male busts known as the Goggle Heads, their eyes disguised behind polished goggles. The series was inspired by Gnearl Oufkir, a captian of the French army of Morocco who allegedly arranged the ‘disappearance’ of left wing politician Mehdi Ben Barka. Oufkir always appeared in dark glasses and these goggle heads, brutal and mesmerising, portray the ugliest side of man, power hungry, murderous and inhumane.
The weight of Frink’s show is juxtaposed with a parallel exhibition from Djorde Ozbolt entitled Brave New World and featuring the kitsch and the cartoon, the artist’s subversion of culture, memory and history. Gnomes preside and technicolour plastic figures and oozing sculptures, the whole like some grotesque inversion of the fairy tale. It’s a sensory explosion in contrast to Frink’s sombre, majestic works; a bizarre pairing, Frink and Ozbolt and yet together the two encapsulating rage, conflict and a subversion of the norm, seem to sum up exactly the mood of our times.