Elisabeth Frink's Riace Warriors

21 June 2017

The exhibition “Artist’s Voices” gives a unique perspective on some of the different stories that acted as the origin for many of the works in The Ingram Collection. One of the most interesting pieces is Frink’s Riace III (1986), and the tall, rough-surfaced sculpture is one of four pieces with the same origin.

The strong, powerful figures give a warrior-like image, which link directly to Frink’s inspiration for the pieces. When two ancient Greek warrior statues were discovered in 1972 off the coast of Riace, Italy, her first thoughts were that ‘the original figures were very beautiful, but also very sinister... these were warriors who would go out and fight your battles for you, mercenaries... in other words they were thugs’.

Riace III (1986), Elisabeth Frink © The Ingram Collection

The Riace Bronzes, National Museum of Magna Grecia in Reggio Calabria © Creative Commons

In response, Frink created the four sculptures cast in bronze. Riace III (1986) features a face painted white, which acts as a mask, inspired by his growing interest in Aboriginal art after a visit to Australia. The figures represent ancient Greek mercenaries, and because Frink was a supporter of Amnesty International, she has said, “Thuggishness is a bit of a preoccupation with me. It hinges on all my humanitarian sentiments.”

The contrast between the dark and light tones defines the man’s features so that they appear bolder and somewhat more expressive; the eyes are full of both soul and power.  Growing up in the war-torn landscape of Suffolk during World War II, Frink felt strongly against violence and suffering, which perhaps links to the seemingly unsentimental expression of the warrior.  In 1984, Frink stated, “I think that my figures of men now say so much more about how a human feels than how he looks anatomically.”

However, what can definitely be learned from these sculptures is that there are sometimes more rich cultural and emotional stories behind certain artworks than we might first think.

See Frink's Riace sculpture in our current exhibition #LightboxArtistsVoices


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