My drawings in pen and conte crayon continue to represent what I see, however much I want to abstract from them.
An afternoon in the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden geared my brain for observing the landscape in Cornwall, where she spent much of her life. Apparently Hepworth pioneered the idea of the pierced object in abstract sculpture, an idea developed famously by Henry Moore. The Tate’s notes on this piece “Sphere with inner form” describe the “smooth thin shell, punctured by circular and oval openings, covers the crusty inner form, which is also pierced. The warm brown patina of the outer surfaces contrasts with the green of the interior faces and the inner form”. I reflected on these comments “she drew attention to the relationship between ‘an inside and an outside of every form … a nut in its shell or of a child in the womb, or in the structure of shells or of crystals, or when one senses the architecture of bones in the human figure'”. Is this a particularly female perspective or simply a mark of a great artist, who can express the vitality beneath the surface?
I began my sketch drawing freehand with the brushpen and then with fountain pen loaded with india ink. It was later that I worked colour back in, using watercolour, and conte crayon both as a resist and as an opaque layer on top.
The Tate’s notes on Hepworth’s 1966 piece “Spring” draw attention to its ovoid shape, in short, it is an egg. This relates to ideas of nature’s cycles and rebirth (and therefore also death or dormancy too? The notes don’t say this). As with “Conversation with Magic Stones“, this idea had been developed through multiple versions, with previous iterations carved in wood, the painted smooth shell contrasting with the coarse grain of the interior. I loved that the pierced interior is strung through and through with threads. I wanted this to make music – a stone lyre.
I walked round this piece “Bronze Form (Patmos)“, holding open the shutter of the iphone camera, distorting it so I could see three sides together. The critical feature of this sculpture is the enclosed space, within the bronze shape that folds over it like a wave. It was inspired by her time on the Greek island of that name.
My immediate response to Bronze Form was to see, not the space within as Hepworth intended, but the outer shell as the twin-arched saurian skull, that heavy block of bone evolved to develop piercings and pillars, lightening the load and providing a framework for powerful muscles.
I wrote on the page “Sculptures built of space and pillars, like huge distorted saurian skulls. Others solid but holes strung with strings like a stone lyre”. I reflected that these shapes seemed natural “set against the more unnatural forms of the the cultured plants” in the garden.
I found a shady corner on a hot day in the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden (part of the Tate in St Ives). I had walked through Hepworth’s bronze installation “Conversation with magic Stones“: comprising three standing figures and three low-lying irregular polyhedrals. The notes tell me that though this was a late piece, it was a large-scale realisation of ideas developed through multiple earlier works across several decades. For her, the figures depict something of human relationships: totemic persons in tension with each other, the mythical landscape and magic stones. From my standpoint, I saw the hard-edged uprights alongside the less regular lines of the bamboo setting: the distressed flat metallic surfaces against the smooth natural cylinders.
When I looked at my sketches made over several days in Cornwall, I started to recognise something that Hepworth had been conscious of in developing her work. Here are three of the ten or eleven remaining stones that comprise the Nine Maidens of Boskednan sited in the midst of moorland. These placed stones speak of now unfathomable relationships among the early Bronze Age inhabitants and between them and their surroundings. How did these stones relate to matters of kinship and exclusion, exploitation of resource, search for meaning, and hierarchy of power?
On the coast west of St Ives, I chanced across another stone circle set deeply in the ferns. This was not marked on the map: I cannot say whether this is the work of ancients or a contemporary folly.
Each sketch was started in pen and indelible ink – really an exercise in mark making. However, I then applied conte crayon to give texture and act as a resist for simple watercolour washes.
Here is another sketch of Moore’s sculpture in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. I sat to draw so my eye was aligned with the knot and radiating cracks in the wooden block. One might view this as a mutilated man, two limbs hacked off in battle. From this angle, though, my view was different. Here is a male body. The one leg, bent at the knee, truncated at the foot, and one arm and hand, wielding the shield as defence and weapon, are sufficient. On the side facing me, the limbs are still present, just not actualised, and instead expressive power is given to the shoulder and hip.
I called in on the last day of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists Prize exhibition. Here is a quick pen sketch on brown packing paper, finished at home with conte crayon, of a ceramic by Jasmina Ajzenkol. I was attracted by its oblate spheroid (flattened like the Earth) shape rising to two points like jaws. Behind is a bronze bust of Lancelot “Capability” Brown, eighteenth century landscape gardener, by Robert Page.