Towner Eastbourne to host retrospective on iconic British artist Barbara Hepworth
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Towner Eastbourne to host retrospective on iconic British artist Barbara Hepworth
Barbara Hepworth, Pierced Hemisphere, 1937. White marble. The Hepworth Wakefield (Wakefield Permanent Art Collection) Barbara Hepworth © Bowness. Photo: Norman Taylor.

EASTBOURNE.- Towner Eastbourne will be presenting begining May 27th a landmark retrospective on the iconic British artist, Barbara Hepworth (1903– 1975), which will end on September 3rd, 2023. Encompassing sculptures, as well as rarely seen drawings, paintings and archival materials, Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life celebrates one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. The exhibition takes place as part of Towner 100, a series of exhibitions and events marking Towner’s 100th year.

Originally staged at The Hepworth Wakefield, Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life has garnered rave reviews and will display some of Hepworth’s most celebrated sculptures including the modern abstract carving that launched her career in the 1920s and 1930s, her iconic strung sculptures of the 1940s and 1950s, and large- scale bronze and carved sculptures from later in her career. Key loans from national public collections will be shown alongside works from private collections that have not been on public display since the 1970s, and rarely seen drawings, paintings and costume designs.

The exhibition will be themed around Hepworth’s broader cultural interests in music, dance, theatre, politics and literature, exploring these and encouraging new interpretations and presentations of her work. As this important show comes to Sussex, it’s an opportunity to experience Hepworth’s work in a landscape where the land and the sea meet, nestled in the South Downs, important for an artist who juxtaposed land and sea; solid and fluid.

The exhibition will open with an introduction to Barbara Hepworth’s work, showing the three sculptural forms she returned to repeatedly throughout her career using a variety of different materials. Though abstract, these forms reveal Hepworth’s enduring ability to express essential human experiences, from interpersonal relationships to our connection to the world around us. A detailed look at Hepworth’s childhood in Yorkshire through archive material and photographs will include some of the artist’s earliest known paintings, carvings and life drawings as she began to explore movement and the human form. A proponent of direct carving, Hepworth combined an acute sensitivity to the organic materials of wood and stone with the development of a radical new abstract language of form.
Hepworth’s interests in music and dance, and how they informed her sculptures, will be explored in depth. In 1951, Hepworth met composer Priaulx Rainier, and subsequently made several works inspired by the parallels between musical form and abstract sculpture. This coincided with her first theatrical design, for the 1951 production of Electra at The Old Vic. Archive photographs will be displayed together with Apollo, a metal sculpture that formed part of the stage set, along with costume and set designs for the 1955 opera by Michael Tippett, A Midsummer Marriage, staged in 1955 at the Royal Opera House.

This section of the exhibition will also explore Hepworth’s passion for dance, and how she captured movement with gestural paintings and sculptures such as Forms in Movement (Galliard) and Curved Form (Pavan), contextualising her move to creating sculptures in metal in the 1950s.

Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life at Towner Eastbourne will culminate with a section looking at Hepworth’s interest in science and technology, from the bold geometric abstract drawings and sculptures made in the 1930s and her friendship with physicist J D Bernal, through to her iconic Hospital Drawings of the 1940s, and her fascination with the Space Race in the 1960s. A group of works will be brought together to reveal the influence of this decade of space exploration on Hepworth, from Disc with Strings (Moon), 1969, made the year Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, to Four Hemispheres, inspired by the Telstar satellite. Hepworth noted at the end of the decade, ‘Man’s discovery of flight has radically altered the shape of our sculpture, just as it has altered our thinking.’ With all these works, Hepworth married her interest in science with a deep spiritality, which will also be explored through the exhibition. In these works, and many others throughout her career, Hepworth connected the local with the universal, and challenged the boundaries of modern sculpture in ways that continue to reverberate today.

Sara Cooper, Head of Exhibitions & Collections said: “We are delighted to bring the biggest ever exhibition of work by Barbara Hepworth to the South East and to Towner Eastbourne this summer. The exhibition received wonderful reviews when it was displayed when it toured to St Ives and Edinburgh and we are really excited to be able to share such a special selection of works with our own audiences, in this, our centenary year. We will draw together the works in a way that is very specific to Sussex, and to Towner, as well as showing a range of important works by Barbara Hepworth including many that have not been on show to the public for almost 50 years.”

Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life is organised by The Hepworth Wakefield in collaboration with the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, Tate St Ives and Towner Eastbourne. The exhibition at Towner Eastbourne is curated by Eleanor Clayton, Senior Curator, The Hepworth Wakefield, Sara Cooper, Head of Exhibitions & Collections, Towner Eastbourne and Karen Taylor, Exhibitions & Collections Curator, Towner Eastbourne. It is currently on show at Tate St Ives until 1 May 2023.

This exhibition is part of TOWNER 100: Celebrating 100 years of Towner Eastbourne.

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