More on the Summer of Love

Barbara Hepworth, Two forms. 1937
Three Forms 1935 Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975 Presented by Mr and Mrs J.R. Marcus Brumwell 1964
Three Forms 1935 Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975 Presented by Mr and Mrs J.R. Marcus Brumwell 1964, aching to be gently stroked!

I have wanted to renew my acquaintance with Barbara Hepworth for some time and what better opportunity than the exhibition Sculpture for a Modern World in London this summer.

Hepworth always used to make it into my list of strong influences but over the past two years, during the diploma she has been superseded by a number of ceramic artists and it is not done to list too many influences on ones profile etc and so poor old Barbara became relegated to the back pages for a bit.  However, having been to the Tate Britain the other day and met a number of old friends and a few new and fabulous pieces, she is going back where she belongs, along side Richard Long and Adam Buick.  The exhibition follows Barbara Hepworth’s rise to fame and included a number of pieces by other artists who were an influence on her work, including sculptures by Gill and paintings by Ben Nicholson.  So maybe, if I make a clear note here that she is one of my major influences, then when Tate Britain does a retrospective on the Life and Works of Bridget Macklin they will remember to include a couple of her pieces alongside mine!

So why do I love her work so much?  Because she was right – about so much, but importantly about relationships between making and the ideas.  Actually, I think I should let her speak for herself on this because she put it so much better than I can.

‘There must be a perfect unity between the idea, the substance and the dimension: this unity gives scale.  The idea – the imaginative concept – actually is the giving of life and vitality to material; but when we come to define these qualities we find that they have very little to do with the physical aspect of the sculpture.  When we say that a great sculpture has vision, power, vitality, scale, poise, form or beauty, we are not speaking of physical attributes.  Vitality is not a physical, organic attribute of sculpture – it is a spiritual inner life.  Power is not man power or physical capacity – it is an inner force and energy.  Form realisation is not just any three-dimensional mass – it is the chosen, perfect form, of perfect size and shape, for the sculptural embodiment of the idea.  Vision is not sight – it is the perception of the mind.  It is the discernment of the reality of life, a piecing of the superficial surfaces of material existence, that gives a work of art its own life and purpose and significant power.’  (Barbara Hepworth in Sculpture, Circle: International Survey of Constructive Art 1937.  Taken from the Tate Britain hand out for the exhibition Sculpture of a Modern World).

I believe that, as makers, we would all do well to have these words tattooed on our arms so that as we are working we can refer to them constantly and never lose sight of what we are doing.  As I explored the exhibition I experienced a wonderful inner tranquillity which stemmed from being in the presence of so many beautiful and balanced forms.  Just one little thing though, these sculptures ache to be felt.  When you visit the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Garden in St Ives, Cornwall, you can walk amongst the sculptures and get up close and personal.  Here, in the rarefied atmosphere of London it would give the curators an apoplectic fit if you went within a mile of the pieces.  I would like the Tate to take note that, when the time comes for my retrospective, there are to be no glass cases and the pieces are to be available for all the senses, touch included.

What Am I Missing?

Marcel Duchamp, The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelor's Even
Marcel Duchamp, The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelor’s Even

We had a lecture on Friday about Marcel Duchamp.  One of the images which we were shown was The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelor’s Even.  It is an extraordinary piece!  In the top section is the Bride, her veil, which trails behind her, has 3 white, almost rectangular sections which were apparently formed by hanging sheets of paper in the breeze and copying the shadows that they formed.  Just below the veil, on the right are 9 holes which were created using a toy cannon.  I remember having great fun with such a cannon in my childhood.  They fired matchsticks and could fell a tin soldier at twenty paces!  Here they represent the sexual emissions of the nine Bachelors in the lower half of the work.

The Bachelors, nine Malic Moulds, represent nine rather emasculated men in the uniforms of, among others, a priest, a policemen, a cavalry officer and an undertaker.  Apparently the trajectory of their ejaculations was decided by copying the random patterns formed by dropping lengths of string onto a surface.

In the warmth of a darkened lecture room my mind wandered to the big question – Why?  I think I might have drifted off because, having done some research into the meanings of this piece this morning, I have discovered all kinds of interpretation of this work, including the following:  I suspect that, had I paid closer attention, I would have a clearer understanding of the answer.  Yet it seems to me that, even if I can be convinced that this is more than barely disguised pornography and that the significance of the Freudian theories which form the backbone of much Surrealist ideology are valid (big subject, might have to come back to this!), I have one over-riding concern which I have to voice:  Whilst the world is fascinated by work of this kind, however worthy, what have we missed?  Are there artists who were working in another, less shocking, genre at the same time but who for some reason lacked the oxygen of publicity. If you follow this train of thought, are there still artists of incredible calibre, working today, who go un-noticed because the press cannot say sufficiently disturbing things about them and so we never get to hear about them.  Whilst I have absolutely no intention of demeaning the work of artists  such as Tracey Emin, I do see a difficulty.  If we are so fixated in trying to understand  art that shocks do we risk failing to discover other, equally valid, technically skilful but less shocking work.  And, whilst I struggle to get my head around the thinly veiled pornography of Duchamp, however important its message, what have I missed?  images41P3MXYL