The exhibition “Artist’s Voices” gives a unique perspective on some of the origins and inspirations behind many of the works in The Ingram Collection. One of the most interesting pieces is Elisabeth Frink’s Riace III (1986), one of a series of four towering sculptures.

The strong, powerful figures, with the intimidating aura of warriors, have a historic inspiration. In 1972, two ancient Greek warrior statues were discovered under the sea, off the coast of Riace, Italy, Frink's 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 to this stunning archaeological discovery, Frink created the Riace warriors: four huge sculptures cast in bronze. Riace III (1986) features a mask-like face painted white, itself inspired in part by her growing interest in Aboriginal art after a visit to Australia. The figures represent ancient Greek mercenaries, and despite allusion to violence and militant themes, Frink was a supporter of Amnesty International, and noted, “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. These are blank, almost vacant eyes that have seen too much. Is he a mercenary with regrets?

Growing up in the war-torn landscape of Suffolk during World War II, Frink felt strongly against violence and suffering, and returned to these themes many times in her work. Her Riaces are naked, and vulnerable, despite their stature. 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.”

What can definitely be learned from these sculptures are the rich cultural and emotional stories behind certain artworks, more than we might first think.

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