The lectures organised by Friends of PSAD are back in school ! The first was held on 13 November after AGM meeting. Art Historian Linda Smith gave a fascinating talk about Barbara Hepworth.
Photos from exhibition of Barbara Hepworth’s work at Tate Britain in 2015_(by Sniez Torbarina)
Janet Fox was at the lecture and has kindly sent us her impressions.
Linda is an engaging and confident speaker with a broad knowledge of Hepworth and enthusiasm for her subject. She described the life and work of this important artist in detail, fully illustrated with photographs which made it interesting and absorbing. Here are some highlights:
We learnt that Hepworth (1903 –1975) was one of the few female twentieth century artists to achieve fame during her own lifetime, she was a tireless promoter of abstract art, an outstanding British sculptor whose work remains enormously popular and widely exhibited (and can be viewed at the unique Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden in St Ives, Cornwall).
Born in Yorkshire and educated at Leeds School of Art and The Royal College of Art, friends and contemporaries included Henry Moore, Naum Gabo, and Ben Nicolson, who became her second husband.
She was initially part of a group of talented young artists who were pioneers of ‘direct carving’ an incredible skill that was not typically taught at art colleges (being considered more of a craft than art). It involved having a natural and intrinsic respect for the quality of the material, acknowledging and celebrating it. Brzeska and Epstein were key sources of inspiration, and Linda felt in her classical inspired figures with missing arms and heads she was influenced by Rodin, as well as by ancient Greek and Roman statues. The serene and poised quality of these works in hard stone demonstrated her highly skilled approach.
In the late 1920s Hepworth began carving in wood and produced elegant, streamlined, and polished figures that emphasized the beauty and tactile quality of that medium.
Linda described how by the 1930’s Hepworth and Nicolson had become a highly regarded stylish and glamorous couple working in harmony together in a studio in Hampstead.
In 1932 she started exploring the idea of ‘pierced sculptures’ using the idea of holes to engage the viewer and cause them to consider the surroundings of the sculpture. Reoccurring themes were also around maternity and Madonna and child and she made intimate and subtly feminine forms thought to be related to her own pregnancies and inspired by her triplets.
Her work became more abstract and refined, she knew and collaborated with the Parisien artists including Picasso and Braque. She believed that modern abstract art would transcend political movements like fascism.
The Hampstead studio had become a magnet for expat artists but at the outbreak of war in 1939 Hepworth and Nicolson moved to Cornwall and she continued to live there for the rest of her life. She was made a Bard of Cornwall and died in a fire in her studio aged 72.
From the late 1940’s onwards, and after her divorce from Nicolson Hepworth moved away from stone or wood to work with bronze and clay. One of her most acclaimed and well known large-scale works is ‘Single Form’ made to commemorate her friend the former Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld, it can be seen outside the UN building in New York. Hepworth also produced drawings including some of surgical procedures in operating theatres, particularly focusing on the eyes and hands of the doctors.
Linda summarized Hepworth as a fierce and determined person whose importance meant she was recognised globally as an international art star. She was closely involved with the Tate Gallery in later life and was the first female artist to have a major retrospective there in 1968.
Photo credit: Article thumbnail photo of Barbara Hepworth’s wooden sculpture is taken by Sniez Torbarina at the Tate Britain’s Barbara Hepworth show in 2015.