“The job of the sculptor is to release the life of the material, and show its essential qualities of shape, color, surface and grain.”
Barbara Hepworth’s words effectively represent her attempt to, quoting the co-curator Chris Stephens, “refine a very pure abstract language, trying to bring the sculpture’s forms down to its most pure elements.”
The first major Barbara Hepworth (Wakefield, 1903 – St Ives, 1975) exhibition in London for almost fifty years is now on at the Tate Britain. The exhibition features some of her most significant sculptures in wood, stone and bronze.
The English sculptress was a leading figure in international modern art: her abstract sculpture became iconic, taking its place in museums and collections worldwide, and in front of buildings such as the United Nations in New York City.
The Tate Britain exhibition traces her progress from the earliest works of art to the large-scale bronzes of the 1960s, focusing on the wooden sculptures she created in the 40s, which were inspired by her engagement with the surrounding Cornwall landscape.
Hepworth’s sculptures are perceived as ancient and modern at the same time, in their shape, colors, grains, and most of all in the way they manage to establish a sort of empathy, a subtle connection with the viewer.
“I’d like them to identify themselves”, Barbara Hepworth stated when asked: “What do you want people to get out of, to feel when they look at your work?”, on the occasion of one of her exhibitions, in 1972.
“I think every sculpture must be touched”, she added, “I think every person should use his own body” when establishing a contact, on both a physical and mental level, with the sculpture itself.
Barbara Hepworth. Sculpture for a Modern World
London, 24 June – 25 October 2015