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Barbara Hepworth
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Wikipedia About Barbara Hepworth

Dame Barbara Hepworth DBE (10 January 1903 – 20 May 1975) was an English sculptor. Her work exemplifies Modernism, and with such contemporaries as Ivon Hitchens, Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, Naum Gabo she helped to develop modern art (sculpture in particular) in Britain. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Barbara Hepworth, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

In 1931, a young Barbara Hepworth bored a hole in the center of a small, smoothly rounded, craggy mass of alabaster. Titled Pierced Form and now lost, the sculpture marked an important breakthrough for the artist, ushering her focus away from her earlier body of largely figurative works toward one concerned with an exploration of pure forms. It also presaged the classic Hepworth style—masterfully carved abstract sculptures whose potent perforations, occasionally accentuated with coloring or threading, create a dynamic impression of stasis and movement in balance.

Hepworth was born in Yorkshire in northern England and studied at the Leeds School of Art and the Royal College of Art in London. She traveled to Italy in the late 1920s, and through the 1930s found herself in close contact with influential artists of the period.1 While the web of her acquaintances was wide, her closest relationships were with Ben Nicholson and Henry Moore, two of the most renowned British modernists of the time. Hepworth and Moore, who was a few years her senior, a fellow northerner, and a schoolmate, advocated direct carving, believing it to be the most effective way to bring out truth in a material. In their conjoined artistic conviction and practice, the two were natural inheritors of the tradition of British modern sculpture, the foundation of which was laid in the early twentieth century by such artists as Henri Gaudier-Breszka and especially Jacob Epstein. With Nicholson, Hepworth shared a marriage, three children, and artistic maturation and dialogue. They moved to St. Ives, Cornwall, in southern England in 1939, and Hepworth lived and worked there until her death in 1975.2

The two works by Hepworth in the Walker Art Center’s collection were both produced in this later

period. Figure: Churinga (1952) and Curved form with inner form (Anima) (1959) seem at first glance as distinct from each other as they can be—a vertically elongated, sinuous carving in Spanish mahogany versus a squat, rotund bronze cast. However, both similarly suggest a certain structural rigidity within organic fluidity, the negative space of punctuation in each alluding to, say, bones of a body or a womb pregnant with a fetal form. The last allusion is made even more likely by the subtitles Hepworth gave to the works. Sigmund Freud writes in Totem and Taboo about the Aruntas, an Australian aboriginal tribe, who believe that a birth takes place after the spirit of a dead ancestor, waiting in the physical location of a particular totem, impregnates a woman when she passes the spot.3Churinga is the name of the stone amulet found in such a totem. And “anima,” one of Carl Jung’s famous archetypes, connotes the feminine nature harbored inside the male psyche. These particular notions of maternity and the unconscious capture Hepworth’s understanding of exterior and interior as both transparent and opaque, and complexly interrelated one with the other. “There is an inside and an outside to every form,” said Hepworth.4 That statement, which sounds so simple and direct, turns out to be far from obvious, just like her sculpture.

  1. Hepworth met Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Constantin Brancusi on her trips to Paris in the 1930s. Naum Gabo and Piet Mondrian, whom she also met in Paris, relocated to London by the end of the decade and joined the group that included Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, architect Walter Gropius, and critics Herbert Read and Adrian Stokes.

  2. In her book Barbara Hepworth: A Pictorial Autobiography (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970), the sculptor calls this period “Years with Ben Nicholson.”

  3. Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo: Resemblances between the Psychic Lives of Savages and Neurotics (1913), trans. A. Brill (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1919), 190.

  4. Herbert Read, Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, exh. cat. (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1955), unpaginated.

Chong, Doryun. “Barbara Hepworth.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center