Afterword to the sculpture Catalogue Raisonné of Elisabeth Frink

Afterword to the sculpture Catalogue Raisonné of Elisabeth Frink

by Brian Phelan

Frink’s Madonna, striding across the grass in front of Salisbury Cathedral, is for me a powerful expression of human strength and purpose. She affirms life.

There has been for some time continual discussion and argument about the relevance of art in our strife torn world. Within these discussions the name Frink is seldom mentioned. She is ‘establishment’. This is the nonsense of those who cannot see beyond their own predilections and prejudices.

When I was writing a play called “Article 5” I looked again at her ‘goggle men’. The title of the play comes from Article 5 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the play deals with torture and those who practice it. Most people think of torture as an aberration committed by a few sick people, usually in a country other than their own. I was concerned with making the connection between government policy, of whatever hue, and the justifications in that policy which can, and do, lead to acts of torture. Amnesty International kindly allowed me access to their documents to carry out my research. When I studied the goggle men I realized they were a three-dimensional expression of the kind of practitioner I was studying in the files at Amnesty.

To torture, the practitioner must reduce his victim to the status of an animal while protecting his sense of his own humanity. The goggle men protect themselves in the most basic way; when you look at them you can only see yourself in their reflecting glasses. You cannot possibly guess what effect your pain is having on them. You cannot appeal to them for mercy. They are arrogant, all-powerful, invincible and because of those glasses, completely of out time. If the eyes are the windows of the soul then it is impossible to tell if these men have souls. It is only possible to look at your own. During the writing of the play I came across a quote from a torturer working for the Greek Colonels: “You can go and tell everyone we torture you. We want everyone to know, we want them to tremble. We want them to know that here that here we torture.”

Looking at Frink’s goggle men I could hear that man’s voice. I could smell his arrogance and my own fear. I thought of Lucky in Waiting for Godot and his fear of Pozzo. I thought of the scream of terror and pain in Picasso’s Guernica.

That, for me, is the power and relevance of Frink’s work.

I wrote that piece some years ago and it is an outrage to me, as I am sure it would be to Lis if she were here, that this government, to-day, is putting pressure on the judiciary to accept evidence extracted under torture and that that torture will take place in a foreign country so that they can hypocritically claim that “Here we do not torture”.