Jeanette Winterson wrote an essay called ‘The Hole of Life’, which was included in a book celebrating the centenary of probably the best known female sculptor in the world, Barbara Hepworth. I’ve been reading it again this last week, and thinking about some of the interesting statements she makes about Hepworth’s work. For example, talking about the radical invention of the pierced form she says : “Hepworth’s holes are also tunnels or worm-holes making a route through time.” I hadn’t really seen this before, but it’s obvious when you think about it. Movement through space always indicates time, and Hepworth’s sculptures achieve a sense of movement particularly with the use of the hole. In another sense, movement isn’t always the first formal value that springs to mind when I think of Hepworth, rather a monumental and alert, intelligent stillness at one with the landscape. Yet the piercing of the material brings movement into being, in spite of the contemplative nature of much of her work. It was a very clever addition to her vocabulary of forms.
“Holes were not gaps, they were connections“, Winterson continues. This brings a totally different perspective to the matter. I’m revisiting this essay and spending a little time looking at Hepworth’s pierced forms, because I find the motif of the circle constantly recurring in my drawings. I’ve seen the circle as a strong shape, archaeological in its connotations, its history going back to the most primitive of rock art thousands of years ago. I’ve seen it myself in Neolithic art work on the moors above Robin Hood’s Bay. I’ve seen it as the rendering of positive space, depicting the sun, moon, or the earth itself. I’ve seen it as an opening down into an unkown space, and I’ve used it as such in my ‘Excavations’ drawings. I haven’t yet seen it as a connector between spaces. I do like the ambiguity that results from treating negative space as positive, and vice versa, but I haven’t yet taken things that step further and considered the circle as possibly my 2D rendition of sculptural pierced form, which then has the capacity to connect spaces, and transport the viewer from one part of the work to another, one place in time to another. I find the thought of that quite breathtaking!
“A Hepworth hole is not only a connection between different kinds of form, or way of giving space its own form – it is a relationship with the invisible” is another comment by Winterson, along with “By surrounding space with form, form can make visible the invisible.” I like the idea of establishing a relationship with the invisible, it strikes me as being a good way to think about capturing that which in its very nature can’t be seen. But there’s a problem. I can appreciate how that might work in the context of 3D, but drawing and painting? How can working in 2D achieve this? The challenge definitely inspires me to head in this direction. And I can see that I shall need to take myself off to see some Hepworth once college is over. Which won’t be long now . . . . . . Of course it was wonderful to see so many Hepworth sculptures out in the landscape a couple of years ago at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield. That was a great experience. Though even singly, her work has a strong presence, as Single Form demonstrated, a copy of which dominated one whole room in the Royal Academy’s show about British sculpture in February of this year. She definitely makes an impression.
One last comment. Winterson suggests that : “Perhaps Hepworth had a more complete sense of the hole than Moore. Perhaps that was because she was a woman.” Winterson does clarify that her essay is not attempting to be a feminist reading of Hepworth’s work, but it is a question of interest, and one that has been cropping up recently in connection with those artists who work in the landscape. Is there such a thing as a female or a male aesthetic that leads to differences in how landscapes are perceived? I know this is a question of interest to both artists and archaeologists at the moment. Hepworth herself was “gender-free” in her work, in her own evaluation of it, yet in spite of that, it may still be true that a female perspective and sensitivity enabled her to make the work she did. I personally never find that I’m working with gender issues in mind, yet I can see how my work may be characterised as conforming to a female aesthetic. Does that mean I see the landscape differently to my male counterparts? I really couldn’t say. Does that mean that my work, identified as consistent with a female aesthetic, stands in danger of being disregarded in favour of that with male aesthetic? (Hepworth versus Moore maybe?) I certainly hope not!