"The piercing of mass is a response to my desire to liberate mass without departing from it"
(Dame Barbara Hepworth, quoted in E. Roditi, Dialogues on Art, 1960, p. 99).
In 1959, Hepworth returned to carving in stone, a medium that had been central to her output in the 1930s, but that she had used only sparingly during the previous two decades. Her first pierced sculpture had been carved in 1931 (Bowness, no. 17; subsequently destroyed), interestingly a year before Moore introduced the motif into his oeuvre. Many of the themes that had preoccupied her in the 1930s re-surfaced in her work at this time, most notably the rounded form pierced by a hole.
Dating from 1964, Carved and Pierced Form, demonstrates the mastery Hepworth had achieved in this medium. In 1964 she wrote to Norman Reid, 'I am one of the few people in the world who know how to speak through marble'. As a student in Rome in 1924, when she won a West Riding scholarship to work in Italy for a year, she had learnt to carve from the marmista (master-carver), Giovanna Ardini. Hepworth was to remain fascinated by this classical material throughout her career. She was particularly drawn to certain qualities of marble and told the critic Josef P. Hodin in 1964, 'I love marble especially because of its radiance in the light, its hardness, precision and response to the sun ... Marble is indeed a noble material, it has a most exceptional sensitivity and delicacy as wellas a tremendous strength' (quoted in J.P. Hodin, 'Barbara Hepworth and the Mediterranean Spirit', in Marmo Rivista Internazionale d'Arte e Architettura, no. 3, December 1964, pp. 59, 62).
The choice of Serpentine marble is interesting though. Marble is better suited to precise edges and crisp, geometric forms, unlike softer stones such as alabaster, but the choice of this marble in particular provides the opportunity to explore the material itself beyond the utopian white or black of many of her works. As a result, the choice of this beautiful stone generates a great deal more emotional energy in the sculpture. In the complex structure and colour variation of Carved and Pierced Form, Hepworth has been able to recall the prehistoric nature of the material and upheaval involved in its creation. The solid shape and veined red recall volcanic eruptions from the formation of Earth, at the same time as acknowledging the specific influence of Cornwall, through the menhirs and pierced circular stones which dot the landscape. Hepworth's self-control of her passions and emotions is clearly displayed in her control of the marble in an abstract manner, yet one can also view the marbled white lines which draw the eye to the pierced hole as an echo of humanity, Hepworth's balance between man and nature. Again by revealing the striated cross-section of grey to the centre of the straight polished sides, Hepworth acknowledges the landscape around her, an echo of the heavy sedimentary rock to be found in the Cornish coastline.
By anchoring the marble on a solid grey slate base Hepworth has provided a grounded point that offsets the form, whilst juxtaposing the natural attributes of each material, the slate in particular a material plentiful in Cornwall. The marble is intended to be seen in the round, it changes colour and presents different perspectives with the different light and the angle of viewing. This enables the present work to provide the viewer with a piece that never remains the same, much as stone changes in an external landscape.
The piercing through of the form just off centre, challenges and underlies the solidity of the marble. Hepworth believed that 'the dynamic quality of the surfaces of a sculpture can be increased by devices which give one the impression that a form has been created by forces operating within its own mass as well as from outside' (E. Roditi, loc cit.). By burrowing through her forms Hepworth allowed the light to enter into the mass of the stone itself. As Jeanette Winterton concluded, 'Hepworth made the hole into a connection between different expressions of form, and she made space into its own form. Her version of 'truth to material' means that space is as much a part of a Hepworth sculpture as mass ... Put your hand into a Barbara Hepworth hole, and you grasp this' (quoted in exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth Centenary, Tate St Ives, 2003, pp. 19-20).
Weare very grateful to Dr Sophie Bowness for her assistance in preparing this catalogue entry. Dr Sophie Bowness is preparing the revised catalogue raisonné of Hepworth's sculpture.