Hepworth is on the horizon

It’s that exciting part of the year when the gallery gears up for the changeover into our summer exhibition. This year our exhibition is all about Barbara Hepworth and more specifically how she thought, felt and spoke about the landscape. Hepworth was born in Wakefield and the rugged rural landscape etched itself on her subconscious. In her seminal work, The Pictorial Autobiography, Hepworth said “Perhaps what one wants to say is formed in childhood and the rest of one’s life is spent trying to say it.” The Hepworth Wakefield, which opened in 2011, brings the artist back home to the place she often referred to both in her art and her words. It is a must-visit for any Hepworth fan.

However Hepworth is most readily associated with the picturesque St Ives in Cornwall and last summer I was fortunate enough to visit St Ives with Hepworth at the forefront of my mind. It was a beautiful sunny day when I arrived and after the long drive from Cumbria, I was glad to head down to the seaside and take in some fresh air.

Hepworth at St Ives

Posing with Epidauros II, 1961 by Barbara Hepworth in St Ives

You don’t have to be in St Ives long to see why Hepworth decided to stay here. The idyllic seaside town is filled with cobbled streets to explore leading to breath-taking views, not to mention the delicious Cornish pasties you get to enjoy are you wander along. As I watched the wave’s crash against the land I imagined Hepworth seeing the same things and being inspired to create her iconic works. The sculpture I thought about the most was the twisting, swishing shapes of the sculpture most familiar, Oval Form (Trezion), which sits so comfortably outside Abbot Hall.

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Men-an-Tol, near Morvah, St Ives

After seeing the beautiful coast I headed up to the hills behind the town. This is not something I had done before, but for anyone visiting the area I would recommend it, perhaps just for peace and quiet after the bustling streets. I visited the ancient standing stones, Men-an-Tol and Chun Quoit, that Hepworth spoke about and even named sculptures after. This experience gave me a greater understanding of how Hepworth saw sculpture in relation to landscape, how in the later years she imagined in rising out of the ground in a mysterious and magical fashion. This is the kind of learning you can’t get in books but so essential to understanding Hepworth.

All these thoughts and feelings have fed into the exhibition at Abbot Hall. It’s just a few weeks away until the sculptures start arriving and all this planning comes to fruition. I hope what I learnt in St Ives shines through in the exhibition and provides our visitors with an interesting interpretation of the works.

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