In 1985 Elisabeth Frink was commissioned to be part of a project to design a new shopping centre in Worthing. The architect Graham Excell designed a loggia with pedestals on which Frink placed her Desert Quartet, four monumental male heads, inspired by a visit to the Tunisian desert. The Montague Centre in Worthing was opened in June 1990.
In his catalogue of Frink's later sculpture, Sculpture since 1984, Edward Lucie-Smith (op. cit., pp. 68-9) comments on the Desert Quartet series, 'Each is just over 4 feet/1.2 metres high. The best historical parallel is with late antique representations of the Roman emperors. The famous bronze portrait of Emperor Constantine (Museo dei Conservatori, Rome), just over 6 feet/1.8 metres in height, is directly comparable. It has both similarities to and differences from Frink's work. Like the heads of Desert Quartet, the emperor's likeness has enormous eyes. With their fixed, uplifted gaze, they radiate authority. Yet this likeness, however stylized, is intended to represent an identifiable man, while the Frink heads are purely symbolic. As a result they are even more reductive than Constantine: the head is reduced to basics. Frink compensates for this simplification by texturing the surfaces with a rhythmic skin of marks, small facets cut into the plaster with a chisel. Their function is to enliven the surface, and to make it seem mobile and ambiguous.
'It has sometimes been suggested that Desert Quartet is a series of lightly disguised self-portraits. In a literal sense, this cannot be true; they were intended, like all Frink's non-specific uses of the motif, to be masculine. Yet there is a certain truth in the suggestion that the physiognomy of these heads - strong nose, sensitive mouth and equally strong chin - has a likeness to the sculptor's own. What is lacking, however, is the fluidity and subtle asymmetry of a true portrait. The surfaces themselves may seem fluid, thanks to the marking already described, but the form underneath are not.
'What Frink was doing here, even more so perhaps than in the Easter Heads, was searching for a valid replacement for the classical notion of the 'ideal'. Greek and Roman representations of gods and goddesses were deliberately endowed with a harmony and regularity which put them outside the sphere of the human. Frink knew that no contemporary artist could hope to succeed using such a procedure, but she did want to suggest that there remains a place, even in twentieth-century society, for the transcendental. The heroic scale is a statement concerning an equally heroic intention. Like William Blake's 'visionary heads', drawn in pencil for half-sceptical friends, the Easter Heads and those of Desert Quartet are essentially statements about the primacy of the imagination. They represent, not an act of self-aggrandisement, but yet another appearance of the unquenchable British romantic tradition'.