Barbara Hepworth

Writing and Conversations

“It is the mystery that makes such loveliness and I want to project my feeling about it into sculpture - not words.”

Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903 – 1975) was a British sculptor known for modernist shapes and figures. Writings and Conversations gathers Hepworth’s articles, essays, and interviews from 1933 until her death in 1975.

Throughout this work she is clear on what drives her, the concepts of fear and truth, the difference between modelling and carving, the defining feeling of presence in her work.

I do not like drama in sculpture. To me drama has its fulfilment in time and space – not in being arrested in concrete material. I want to achieve a ‘presence’ in my sculptures of such a kind that they remain true and valid in all moods.

Although Hepworth is less known than her contemporary Henry Moore she has become more popular and better understood recently due to exhibitions like the Tate’s 2015 Retrospective. Hepworth’s work is also on full-time exhibit at the Hepworth Wakefield in West Yorkshire. Landscape was intensely meaningful for Hepworth.

When I visited Greece and the islands of the Aegean I was greatly moved by the extraordinary power of the vertical in a landscape which was surrounded by the curved horizon of the sea. In the similar clear brilliant light of West Penwith – this last twenty miles of England thrusting out into the Atlantic and enclosed by sea on three sides.

Hepworth saw place in its physicality, apart from meaning. Lines, formations, change over time, like fellow British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, Hepworth knew her work had to dialogue with the landscape and yet stand apart.

In this pure light the solitary human figure, standing on a hill or cliff, sand or rock, becomes a strong column, a thrust out of the land, as strong as the rock itself and powerfully rooted; but the impression overall is one of the growth and expansion, a rising form which reaches outwards and upwards.

Hepworth’s studio garden in St. Ives where she produced most of her work, see – and touch – many of her pieces. Her combination of shapes, lines, even materials in such proportion makes one feel something unspoken. Lines or holes are often added, why? Perhaps she felt something was missing, yet undiscovered.

Carving is very different from modelling. You must see what is inside, cut away and get at it. With modeling you can change it, push it – it is more like painting, whereas carving is like music.

This assortment of essays and interviews offers essential personal insight into an artist who was driven by the contemplation of the mystery that propels us through imagination and into art.

Close-up of "Pierced Form" by Barbara Hepworth, 1962.
“Pierced Form” by Barbara Hepworth, 1962. Carved from Nigerian guarea wood. Found in the Barbara Hepworth Museum & Sculpture Garden in St. Ives. Photograph by Ellen Vrana.

Supplement Hepworth’s thoughts on emotion and structure withGaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, a work mixes poetics, illusion and common imagery to localize some of our most abstract self-concepts or with a look at the ways different people have turned memory into physical space