Over the next two weeks, InSight presents two works by one of the great sculptors of the twentieth century: Barbara Hepworth.
For two years between 1947 and 1949, Hepworth made a series of drawings which depict surgeons in the operating theatre. These works, known as the hospital drawings, received a dedicated exhibition at The Hepworth Wakefield in 2012 and 2013. Most have titles that describe either the operation or the relationship and number of the figures present (‘quartet’, ‘two figures’, ‘concourse’). Though these works are commonly described as ‘drawings’, and though they were made in part using pencil, the visual outcome is considerably more complex than this term suggests. As with Hepworth’s other pictorial art from this period, thinned oil paints were used to create subtle, glowing tonalities, and the pencil variously creates supple, flowing outlines and jagged, smudged effects of modelling.
Writing of her ‘abstract drawings’ in 1952, Hepworth evoked the sculptural tactility of her graphic technique, describing ‘a line or curve which, made with a pencil on the hard surface of many coats of oil or gouache, has a particular kind of “bite” rather like incising on slate’. In her figural work by contrast, she wrote,
I began to consider a group of separate figures as a single sculptural entity, and I started working on the idea of two or more figures as a unity, blended into one carved and rhythmic form.
In various ways, works like Reclining Figures relate to contemporaneous and subsequent sculptures. Two Figures (Menhirs) (1954-55, Art Institute of Chicago), for instance, develops a similar theme to that explored in figural drawings – the placement, disposition and interaction of two forms in space. Indeed, an exploration of how mass and space interact was an overarching artistic concern of Hepworth’s at the time.