English sculptor Barbara Hepworth was at the forefront of the British avant-garde movement, creating powerful sculptures in stone, wood, and bronze, incorporating the concept of positive and negative space in her abstract forms.
In 1933, she helped establish Unit One, the first British modernist movement to embrace art, design, and architecture. During this time, she was one of the first British sculptors to scoop holes out of her sculpture allowing light and air to flow through. In some sculptures she would incorporate string and wire, funneling light into her work and creating filigrees of shadow.
In 1934, Hepworth gave to birth to triplets, whose father was the artist Ben Nicholson, whom she would later marry in 1938. (They divorced in 1951.) Already the mother of a son from a previous marriage, Hepworth credited the birth of these three children as triggering a creative unleashing in her own art.
In 1939, when she and Nicholson moved to Cornwall, the landscape became an important representational element in her work. “When I’m in a landscape or looking at a cave or a wave, it’s all so pure that I become detached. . . Everything is merged into a new form, inside and outside. It’s like falling into the landscape or the sea. I’m transported into an untroubled world, a different epoch.” Hepworth’s bronze, wood, and stone pieces are her personal response to the bones, roots, tissues and scars of unspoiled nature. Her sculptures suggest the rhythm of waves with their curved forms or the landscapes of pre-history recalling monoliths or totems. Hepworth remained in St. Ives, Cornwall from 1949 until her death in 1975.
Her artwork consisted of smooth, rounded forms. She pioneered the technique of direct carving, working without a model or drawing. While Hepworth drew her inspiration from a variety of aesthetic sources, including the works of Henry Moore, Constantin Brancusi, and Jean Arp, in the last decade of her life her sculpture took on subjects that related to human history, culminating in her monumental series, “The Family of Man.”
Two museums in Britain are named after her: one in St. Ives and one in West Yorkshire, where she was born. Her works can be found in more than a dozen colleges and universities in Britain as well as in the Tate London, LACMA, and other major museums. In 2015, the Tate had the first big London show of her works since 1968.