A Barbara Hepworth bronze sculpture called Two Forms (Divided Circle), valued at more than a million dollars, was cut from its mooring in London’s Dulwich Park by suspected scrap metal thieves.
This is a big deal.
Hepworth, who died in 1975 in a fire at her studio in St Ives, Cornwall, made history when she pierced sculptural form for the first time (ahead of fellow British sculptor Henry Moore), to show that the opening also has form.The stolen sculpture is a prime example of her innovation.
“Divided Circle,” although abstract, also exemplifies Hepworth’s feel for nature and what she called her “biological necessity for carving, which she saw as “an extension of the telluric (earth) force which mold the landscape.”
Case in point/counterpoint: “Pierced Stone,” presents an opening in an otherwise solid shape in a kind of play with a form’s outside and inside. “Sea Form” – a free form with a large opening, resembles a giant shell from the ocean depths.
While using impersonal geometric shapes – rectangles, spheres, cones and cylinders – they clearly relate to nature. Many of her sculptures of two squares or two spheres – one big, one small – suggest a mother and child, though simplified to the bone, you might say.
The decidedly voluptuous curves of her work also allude to the human form. “You can’t make a sculpture without involving your body,” she famously said. You move and you feel and you breathe and you touch.”
Harmony also marks Hepworth’s work. “Single Form,” her memorial to Dag Nammerskjold at the United Nations Plaza in New York, is an asymmetrical rectangular form with rounded corners, tipped on one end, and set over an ornamental pool. Despite its non-objective shape, it can strike one as jaunty and brave.
Another example comes to mind. “Oval Form” is a smoothly carved wood work that conjures up both the shape of a goose egg and a human head. And with Hepworth’s characteristic hollowing out of the form, “Oval Form” conveys a life form. A series of strings stretched tautly across the opening can make one thing of the sinews of a living form.
Hepworth also connected to her own inner life. You see this in her recounting of triplets being born to her:
“Ben (Nicholson, a painter) had complained a little bit that I seemed withdrawn and concentrated over my pregnancy. But suddenly I said, ‘O dear,’ and in next to no time I saw three small children at the foot of my bed – looking pretty determined and fairly belligerent.. This was an event even my doctor did not suspect.”
A mother of four children, counting the triplets, Hepworth believed that motherhood helped her be a better artist. “I found it was a great inspiration to me. I loved the family and everything to do with them.” This suggests that the harmony in her work was in her.
As she said, “I was made that way – to incorporate family, children. A woman artists is not deprived by cooking and having children, nor by nursing children with measles (even in triplicate) – one is in fact nourished by this rich life, provided one always does some work each day; even a single half hour, so that the images grow in one’s mind.”
Even anxious times with her children found their way into her work. In “Oval Form,” she said, “I was desperate because my youngest daughter had osteomyelitis. She was ill for four years. I thought the only thing I can do to help this awful situation is to make some beautiful object. Something as clean as I can make it as a kind of present for her.
“Working abstractly seems to release one’s personality and sharpens the perceptions, so that in the observation of life it is the wholeness or inner intention which moves me so profoundly.”
But it was her recounting of a visit to Brancusi’s studio that demonstrates how his art held sway over hers:
“I was looking for some sort of ratification of an idea which had germinated during the last two years and which had been the basis of my work ever since. In Brancusi’s studio I encountered the miraculous feeling of eternity mixed with beloved stone and stone dust. It is not easy to describe a vivid experience of this order in a few words – the simplicity and dignity of the artist…inches of accumulated dust and chips on the floor; the whole great studio filled with soaring forms and still, quiet forms, all in a state of perfection in purpose and loving executions, whether they were in marble, brass or wood – all this filled me with a sense of humility hitherto unknown to me.”