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Art Reviews: Barbara Hepworth | steven campbell

Wave, by Barbara Hepworth PIC: © Bowness Hepworth Estate / Collection: National Galleries of Scotland

Barbara Hepworth: Art and Life, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh *****

Steven Campbell, Dressing Above your Station, Tramway **** virtual exhibition

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Barbara Hepworth was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, in 1903. Later in life, she remembers driving with her father through the countryside as a child at the “frenzied pace of about 25 miles a ‘hour’ and fly across the Yorkshire landscape in this manner with his sculpture; “the hills were sculptures; the roads defined the forms. Certainly a conversation between line and form characterizes much of his work. She was of course primarily a sculptor, but in the line of drawing defines the form and among many others in the comprehensive exhibition of her work occupying the entire gallery two of the SNGMA, the generous display of drawings and also of prints are both striking in themselves and offer a significant expansion of our understanding of his work.

Barbara Hepworth with the plaster Don of Figure for Landscape and a bronze cast of Figure (Archaean) November 1964. PIC: Lucien Myers

At Wakefield School she was encouraged by her art teacher, Miss Murfet, and a rather handsome drawing of her, by 17-year-old Hepworth, confirms her judgment of her pupil’s promise. In 1921 Hepworth went to the Royal College and four years later married sculptor John Skeaping. Stunning figure designs from the late 1920s find a direct echo in a series of semi-figurative wooden sculptures that are among the finest things in the exhibition.

The earliest of these, Torso from 1929, is recognizable by a female torso in the familiar truncated form of classical sculpture, but simplified and refined. Here and elsewhere, she has often chosen a beautiful exotic wood, but particularly hard. This figurine is made of picardo wood. In another taller, thinner torso a few years later, she used African blackwood, but the resulting finish is still very beautiful, not least because her care and effort is still an almost tangible aspect of the carving. .

This is also the case with Figure in Sycamore, a character standing on a massive tree trunk, his head turned. The bold simplification of this figure invites comparison, but not to its disadvantage, with Henry Moore. Both artists were undoubtedly responding to Picasso’s figurative work of the early 1930s and Hepworth had met Picasso in France in 1933. She also met Brancusi whose radical simplifications carried over into her later work, but others also influenced him. His Mother and Child from 1934, for example, is very close to a work by Jean Arp from a year or two earlier.

In 1933 Hepworth herself, Henry Moore, Paul Nash, Ben Nicholson and Edward Wadsworth formed a group called Unit One reflecting this ongoing dialogue with the new European modernism. In a fascinating archival exhibit there is, for example, a letter to Hepworth from Mondrian in Paris in 1936. Two years later he came to London. The rectangular pattern of a rather beautiful printed fabric she designed in 1940 seems to reflect her work, or at least the principles on which it was based.

Genesis III, 1966, by Barbara Hepworth PIC: © Bowness, Hepworth Estate / Photo: Jerry Hardman-Jones

In 1936, the first Surrealist exhibition in London added something more subversive to the mix. Reflecting these new directions, Hepworth’s work in the late thirties includes both geometrically abstract works like Two Segments and Sphere, which, in white marble, is exactly what it says it is, and Standing Figure. The latter is also abstract, but rather than geometric, reflecting the surreal interest in the mystery of the subconscious, it somehow seems oddly animated as if a neolithic standing stone is inhabited by a mischievous surreal imp.

Works like this, or Two Forms in Echelon, two slender, upright forms in polished wood, dark as bronze, also reflect the interest in standing stones that Hepworth shared with Paul Nash. One of the elements of Two Forms in Echelon also features a hole, a sculptural device which had first appeared in her work in 1932 and which she used frequently thereafter, saying how much she loved the idea. that people see through his sculpture.

Her marriage to John Skipping broke down. Ben Nicholson became her second husband and in 1934 she had triplets, two girls and a boy. She had already had a son with John Skeaping and in August 1939 the Hepworth-Nicholson family moved to Cornwall which remained their home thereafter. With her young family to support, little money and the difficulty of finding materials during the war (she had to have a permit to buy wood) she could not do much carving, but she did not give up her art. and spent her time drawing evenings, mostly what she called “sculptures disguised as two-dimensional” – geometric compositions of straight lines and curves that echo her early use of strings and stretched wires in her sculpture. However, she also produced works in plaster and, despite the difficulties of wartime, had her first solo exhibition in 1944 in Wakefield.

One of the most striking groups of works here follows an invitation in 1947 to draw in a hospital. The resulting drawings of surgical teams in the operating room have a life-like grandeur that echoes classical Greek sculpture. Her interest in ancient Greece can also be seen in her designs for a production of Sophocles’ Electra at the Old Vic in 1951. She also cooperated with musicians and composers and made works inspired by music. Rhythmic Form from 1949, for example, is linked to Stravinsky in the tag here. It is a simple standing form with an elegant curve that follows the grain of the wood. A single hole pierced through it opens it into space as if music translated into dance was then translated into sculpture.

Curved Forms (Pavan), 1956, by Barbara Hepworth PIC: © Bowness, Hepworth Estate / Photo: Jerry Hardman-Jones

Movement then became an integral part of his vocabulary, notably in a group of gestural paintings which seem to have been inspired by abstract expressionism. The sea was visible from her studio and the movement of the waves finds an echo in a work like Sea Form (Porthmeor) from 1958. It is in bronze and she worked more and more in metal to produce large often curvilinear compositions which were often for public orders or outdoor display. 1961’s Open Curved Form, for example, is composed of ribbon-like shapes in interlocking curves. Like many of these later works, it is in patinated, but not polished, bronze. Working on a larger scale and modeling rather than sculpting, she lost something of the intimate relationship with her material that makes her finest works so delightfully beautiful. His work on paper, however, has lost none of its freedom. 1969’s Genesis III, for example, a red disc and a black disc floating against splashes of black, is free and lively.

Online, Dressing Above Your Station is an exhibition staged in a Digital Tramway. (Tramway never looked better, but I found the digital experience a little tricky, my fault no doubt.) The show explores just one aspect, the dress, in all the diverse richness of Steven’s artistry. Campbell. One of the finest and most inventive painters of his time, this virtual exhibition sets out to showcase something of his inimitable sense of style. Clothes matter in her photos. Her hikers usually wear Harris tweed and her own clothing was unconventional but carefully chosen. Here, a dozen works collected reflect these interests, but the main act is a commentary by Carol Campbell, better qualified than anyone to illuminate the sometimes dizzying complexity of her late husband’s art and the range of references he brought there.

Barbara Hepworth until October 2; Steven Campbell until June 26, see www.dressingaboveyourstation.com

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Installation view of Steven Campbell: Dressing Above Your Station at the (virtual) Tramway

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