This strikingly powerful sculpture was chosen to be illustrated on the cover of Frink's catalogue raisonné.
The Green Man, 1991, marks the final statement of one of her most prominent subjects; the male head. Conceived in her final years, during her battle with cancer, this work encapsulates the artist’s courage when faced with the possibility of death. The source of inspiration for this work originates from William Anderson's book, Green Man, 1990, which she was given following an operation. Caroline Wiseman, explained that the theme of the Green Man, ‘symbolises a rebirth and renewal of spirit and mind, a continuation of life. This was a poignant subject for Frink as she worked on [it] at the very end of her life; the subject helping her come to terms with her cancer. They are succinct and direct spiritual images, void of any unnecessary detailing or sentimentality' (C. Wiseman, Elisabeth Frink Original Prints Catalogue Raisonné, London, 1998, pp. 26-27).
The head motif marks a significant portion of Frink’s oeuvre - their production spanning virtually thirty years, from 1959 to shortly before the artist’s death in 1993. These works radiate a powerful stoic energy, stemming from the large, glaring eyes, a strong, symmetrical nose, and closed mouth. The head motif represents a vehicle for symbolic representation, as opposed to specificity; they are icons. Frink explained their significance in her work, ‘Heads have always been very important to me as vehicles for sculpture. A head is infinitely variable. It’s complicated and it’s very emotional. Everyone’s emotions are in their faces. It’s not surprising that there are sculptures of massive heads going way back, or that lots of other artists other than myself have found the subject fascinating’ (E. Frink, quoted in E. Lucie-Smith, Frink A Portrait, London, 1994, p. 125).
Green Man rejects the viewer’s gaze, imbuing the work with a meditative aura, a trope commonly found in Frink’s work. Edward Lucie-Smith’s observations on this topic prove particularly revealing: ‘One of the most striking things about her males is the way in which they seem to resist the spectator’s gaze, retaining this impervious quality even when they are in violent motion. Frink seems to have seen male nudity as something which, by some kind of paradox, represented an essential privacy. Her males pursue their lives with a striking lack of self-consciousness’ (E. Lucie-Smith, Elisabeth Frink: Sculpture since 1984 and Drawings, London, 1994, p. 14).
The work’s reductive quality serves to strengthen this notion of her male heads as universal figures. Frink avoids anecdotal detail, favouring alternative means to convey her ideas. Consequently, the surface of her sculptures are typically characterised by a roughness and vivacity, revealing the artist’s method. The source of inspiration for this anti-classical approach can be found in the modernist tradition of sculpture developed by Rodin.
In creating Green Man, Frink was able to find a source for strength and meditation during a period of great hardship. Curiously, preliminary drawings for this work include leaves originating from the male figure’s mouth, perhaps representing a literal depiction for the idea of rebirth. Ultimately, the quasi-abstracted realm in which Green Man is situated emits a transcendental, mystical energy. Edward Lucie-Smith notes that Frink, ‘did not use… male figures as a means of expressing spirituality. They are, instead, a way of celebrating the physical universe. Their ambiguity (and many are ambiguous in mood), springs from Frink’s recognition that bodily strength may be overcome by some yet stronger force' (ibid., p. 12).