Born in Wakefield, Yorkshire in 1903, Hepworth started her studies at Leeds School of Art, before continuing at the Royal Collage of Art in London. From an early age she showed a deep interest in the world around her, and her travels to Italy, France and Greece led to her discovery of European artist such Braque, Mondrian, Picasso and Brancusi.
In 1939, Hepworth settled in St Ives, on the Cornish coast, with her husband Ben Nicholson, with whom she created an artistic hub for a generation of younger emerging British artists such as Peter Lanyon, Terry Frost, Bryan Wynter, and Patrick Heron.
In the 1950s she became known world wide as a result of her presence at the Venice Biennale and the Sao Paulo Biennal. Since then her artworks have travelled all over the world.
From the 1930s Hepworth’s work moved away from the figurative and representative towards abstraction, from ‘Mother and Child’ to ‘Two Forms’: a relationship between two entities.
Influenced by the cubist artists she met in France and inspired by the Space Race of the 1960s, celestial bodies began appearing in her artworks: universal forms that are timeless. Though concerned with form and abstraction, Hepworth’s art was primarily about relationships; not merely between two forms presented side-by-side, but between the human figure and the landscape, colour and texture, and most importantly between people at an individual and social level.
3. IT’S ALL ABOUT SPACE
Hepworth created a new language of sculpture. Her work is not about the shape of a figure but focuses instead on the space inside the object, opening up the forms. She painted to emphasise the full spectrum of light, a complex series of movements, as a spiral spins, taking the eye from one to another.
She manages to translate the experience of nature into Art, inspired by the natural landscape around her. Hepworth made the hole into a connection between different expressions of form, and she made space into its own form. Her version of ‘truth to the materials’ means that space is as much a part of a Hepworth sculpture as mass. This gives sculpture a fourth dimension, because we know now that space and time are not separate, but have to be considered as space-time. And space is never a straight line; space is curved. Hepworth’s curves intuit this hidden knowledge. We are drawn to her curves because we come from a curved universe, and we find the movement within ourselves, whatever the logic of motorways.
4. SCULPTURES BORN IN THE DISGUISE OF TWO DIMENSIONS
Her modernist work is organic in shape, with fluid contours that pierce through oval forms.
Hepworth also produced a number of exquisite works on paper, describing her drawings as 'sculptures born in the disguise of two dimensions'. With smooth, transparent lines and textures these drawings are enriched with bold paint strokes. Hepworth became known as a printmaker later in her career when the signed lithograph print 'Three Forms' was published in 1969, in an edition of 60. It is associated with her 1935 sculpture 'Three Forms', a carving made from grey alabaster influenced by the birth of her triplets, two boys and a girl.
Barbara Hepworth said of her work at this time ‘I was absorbed in the relationships in space ... and in the tensions between the forms’.
5. A GREATER FREEDOM
‘While [I] always remain constant to my conviction about truth to material, I found a greater freedom for myself’ (B. Hepworth, 1968).
Hepworth is the perfect embodiment of a free spirit, where freedom gave her the liberty to explore whilst remaining true to herself. The materials, the techniques, the travels, her marriage and the triplets: a busy life for a woman in the middle of the 20th century. Hepworth was prolific throughout her life, due in part to the financial freedom that early international success provided, enabling her to purchase her big studio in St Ives, but also due to the free time she had once the triplets had grown up and her marriage had come to an end.
As a woman in a largely male-dominated art-world, Hepworth took an active role in the way her work was presented. She was particular about the documentation of her works, and collaborated closely with others. She established innovative ways to push the boundaries of her technique and sustained a career that saw her mount retrospective exhibitions of her work internationally to the end of her life.