Summer (Exhibition) in the City

Just spent two days in London visiting the Barbara Hepworth at the Tate and the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Joseph Cornell was at the RA too.

oval sculpture

Oval sculpture in guarea wood

Barbara Hepworth

It didn’t seem right to leave Cornwall and go all the way to London to see Barbara Hepworth’s work but it was worth it. Hepworth lived in St Ives, Cornwall until she died in a fire in her studio there in 1975. I’ve seen her work at the Tate St Ives and in her garden which she left as a memorial to her work. She has larger bronze pieces in the Yorkshire Sculpture park near to where she was born.

Pelagos 1946 Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975 Presented by the artist 1964

Pelagos 1946 Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975 

It was Hepworth’s sculptures in wood that I particularly liked. (Pelagos is my partner Barbara’s favourite.) She began her career by carving figures in stone and later wood, then began turning these materials into more abstract works. There is much stuff written about how she explored the interior spaces in the medium she was working with and it’s true she liked making holes in her work. But I think the most interesting thing she did by cutting into her materials was to explore the curves and spirals that are formed when you walk around her pieces. The Oval sculpture above, for instance, has a wonderful view of a pregnant woman’s belly as you round the sculpture from behind it. Both Barbara and I noticed this separately. But also, it’s difficult to see this in the photograph, but the holes and the white paint describe two impressive spirals that are wrapped around each other and these change in proportion as you walk around the piece.

So no photograph can do justice to a sculpture, you have to move around it. Worth going all the way to London for this!

Hepworth used bronze more frequently for her later sculptures so that she could make multiple reproductions of her figures, but also as a more resilient material for display outside. I decided, once again, to learn how to cast in bronze one day……………. But I also decided to do something big in wood once my year of artist in residence has finished and I have some time for it. I think my love of colouring parts of my sculptures comes from her work.

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

I have watched the annual BBC programme about the Summer Exhibition for a few years now and at last have been to see the real thing. It was a great way to catch up with contemporary art rather than historical works. The rooms each contained an overwhelming display of art right up each wall to the top. It was impossible to “see” everything. There was too much. We walked through each room, looking, for an hour or so and then reversed our tracks only to find loads of stuff we had not seen initially. Rose Hilton’s pastel nude was a hark back to the impressionist era. Martin Leman’s Green Cardigan caught our eye for its simplicity. Unfortunately it was already sold for £2500. Norman Ackroyd’s etchings of seascapes and sea birds were atmospheric. There was a whole room dedicated to prints, each with rows of tiny “sold” red dots on, and a sculpture room. I found a peach made of plywood similar to a sculpture I am trying to make. So that was a bit reassuring.


Tim Shaw’s Erebus was a huge dark binliner of an angry man similar to, but much larger than, a room of rooks and ravens of his, I have seen in Penzance.

Joseph Cornell

We just had time to fit in a quick visit to the Cornell exhibition also in the RA. Both Barbara and I like his quirky boxes.

medici box    medici princess

Medici box                                 Medici Princess

Seems he was an armchair traveller who never left the US and rarely left his New York State. He read a lot, however, and collected loads of stuff from junk shops. He began by making collages cut from magazines and graduated to putting stuff in beautifully-made boxes. In the blurb it claimed that he knew a lot about all the countries of the world by reading and collecting. I do think, however, that his knowledge was a special, limited kind and thus lacked a real understanding of other places. He was probably the kind of person who does well in pub quizzes with his general knowledge but who is a bit short in the understanding and empathy departments.

He was mostly interesting because of the connections he made between the components of his boxes which included things like clay pipes, clock springs, coloured sand, maps and balls. He won’t agree with me but he fitted in well with the Surrealists who were around at the same time.


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