Barbara Hepworth 1903 - 1975


‘I rarely draw what I see- I draw what I feel in my body. Sculpture is a three-dimensional projection of primitive feeling: touch, texture, size and scale, hardness and warmth, evocation and compulsion to move, live, and love. Landscape is strong- it has bones and flesh and skin. It has age and history and a principle behind its evolution.’ (1)

Drawing has always been fundamental to Hepworth’s artistic practice and her two-dimensional works exist both as important images in their own right, as well as essential experiments into form and movement which inform her sculptural practice. Writing in 1946, Hepworth acknowledges,

'I do spend whole periods of time entirely in drawing (or painting, as I use colour) when I search for forms and rhythms and curvatures for my own satisfaction. These drawings I call "drawings for sculpture"; but it is in a general sense - that is - out of the drawings springs a general influence.' (2)

Indeed, in the period directly preceding this quote, during World War II, restrictions on Hepworth’s time and materials meant that drawing was the artist’s only viable means of creative expression, ‘If I didn’t have to cook, wash-up, nurse children ad infinitum’ she wrote to E.H. Ramsden in 1943, ‘I should carve. The proof of this is in the drawings. They are not just a way of amusing myself nor are they experimental probings - they are my sculptures born in the disguise of two dimensions.’ (3)

In 1954, after the death of her son Paul Skeaping, Hepworth traveled to Greece and her experience of what she called the ‘embodiment of the sculptor’s landscape’ and its qualities of being, ‘Timeless in space, pure in conception and like a rock to hold onto…’, (4), would have a fundamental impact on her art. In her drawings, this experience signaled a new freedom and looseness, or opening up of form, which continued through to her drawings in the 1960s. Indeed, references to the ancient, monumental theatres of Delphi or Epidauros (Fig.1 and 2) in which line and space is ordered harmoniously from one central circle are evident in works such as Pierced Wood Form, 1964. In this drawing, all of the movement and energy exists in relation to the two circles, around which extended lines curve and arch through space. The inclusion of two circles, the repetition of line and the creation of various planes adds a three-dimensionality to this form which implies it was intended as a drawing for sculpture.

Although there does not appear to be a Pierced Wood Form sculpture which relates directly to this drawing, several of Hepworth’s sculptures from mid-1960s contain echoes of the forms found in this work. In Curved and Pierced Form, (Fig.3), dating from the same year, and carved from serpentine, the two circles in the drawing are translated into a circular hole which pierces through the serpentine from one side to the other and the triangular and curved lines find their form in the edges of sculpture.

In 1966, Sir Alan Bowness wrote of Hepworth’s drawing in the sixties that they, ‘…have become much larger and grander in scale, and altogether more painterly, with colour playing an increasingly dominant role. They might more properly be called paintings. The boards are prepared as before with scumbled oil paint, making rich and variegated textures on which accents of stronger colour and thicker paint are placed. Of late the paint has tended to be more liquid, and sometimes already establishes the form which the drawn pencil line does little more than confirm...But it is the tightness and precision of the pencil line which attract attention. This is at once suggestive of sculptural form, and yet is also mysterious in a celestial way – it is no accident that words referring to sea and sky should so often appear in the titles.’ 5

In Pierced Wood Form, 1964 the sea is described by a central circle of blue, surrounded by white and orange oil paint which, applied to a scumbled surface in light, almost translucent layers creates a dappled effect. Colour is used to described the subtleties of light and its impact on the shape and depth of form and in Hepworth’s work, all of these elements combine in an effort to describe what the artist terms as the sculptor’s landscape, which is,

‘…one of ever-changing space and light where forms reveal themselves in new aspects as the sun rises and sets, and the moon comes up. It is primitive world; but a world of infinite subtle meaning. Nothing we ever touch and feel, or see and love, is ever lost to us. From birth to old age it is retained like the warmth of rocks, the coolness of grass and the ever-flow of the sea.’