Last year we were lucky enough to visit the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden in St Ives. It was a foggy day – I remember because this worked to our advantage. The fog dissipated soon after we arrived in Hepworth’s extraordinary garden, but for a long time we had the place more or less entirely to ourselves, as if we’d been invited. It was like travelling back in time, to wander in the studio and among the sculptures, in and around the restored house (where Hepworth died in a fire in 1975).
Now Tate Britain (London) http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain has mounted a major exhibition which also shows the work of some of her friends (including Henry Moore) and her two husbands (John Skeaping, Ben Nicholson). For the first time, Tate have set up a Garden Installation (which runs until 25th September) in keeping with Hepworth’s ideas of form and space and evoking her interest in the interplay between sculpture and architecture.
I’m no art critic, so I won’t embarrass us all by pretending to know things I don’t. But I do love the clean, elegant lines of her Groups and her many Forms, the strong, smooth surfaces of the pieces she carved from Guarea wood in the 1950s. They have a genuine – almost audible – glow; they’re rich and inviting as conkers in October.
It’s a small quibble to say that I really wish she had given more expressive titles to her work. See? This is where ignorance trips me up and I know it. The work is abstract, and titles might undermine the abstraction, but I really want to know what Hepworth was thinking while she conjured and coaxed these amazing forms from their source material.
In her practice she was a carver, as opposed to a modeller. This is interesting to consider in relation to writing. If you’re a writer, what kind of writer are you: carver or modeller?
Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World is at Tate Britain until 25th October 2015.