Alan Bowness will include this sculpture as number BH 551 in the forthcoming revised edition of his Barbara Hepworth 1970-75 catalogue raisonn.
Two Slates (August) was executed in 1972, just three years before Barbara Hepworth's death. Its device of a rectangle pierced by an open circle dates back in Hepworth's oeuvre to the 1930s; to quote the British painter Paul Nash, a close associate of Hepworth, this motif formed part of the "common language" of abstract artists like Hepworth, Lszl Moholy-Nagy (whom Hepworth met in 1935), and Ben Nicholson (whom Hepworth married in 1938 following a seven-year affair). The juxtaposition of circle and square re-appears in Hepworth's work of the mid-1960s and 1970s, both in a series of small marble and slate sculptures (e.g. Bowness, nos. 409-411 and 423-424) and in monumental outdoor works like Square with Two Circles, 1965 (Bowness, no. 347; Rijksmuseum Krller-Mler, Otterlo) and Four-Square (Walk-Through), 1966 (Bowness, no. 433; Churchill College, Cambridge). The open circle itself is still more prevalent in Hepworth's art and features prominently in some of her most celebrated sculptures, including the twenty-one foot Single Form of 1962-1963 (Bowness, no. 325) which stands outside the United Nations in New York.
The circle/square combination was central to the exploration of space and form which constituted the touchstone of Hepworth's art. In reference to late works like Two Slates (August), A.M. Hammacher has explained:
The reappearance...of rectilinearity, the rectangle with the circle (as a line, hollow or boring), is a logical consequence of the magnetic field. Discs, arranged parallel to each other, or surfaces arranged at right angles to each other, open up new possibilities of transforming the space in between into intermediate or anti-forms... Compared with what had gone before, the piling-up of parts, the refinement of their relationship to one another, and the rectangular arrangement emphasize their three-dimensional character. They have, moreover, a simple architectural quality... They are totally form... (A.M. Hammacher, Barbara Hepworth, London, 1987, pp. 153-158)
Despite her inclination toward the abstract and geometric, Hepworth's work retains a strong sensitivity to nature and humanity. Even in works like Two Slates (August), which appear at first glance to deal purely with the "plasticity of relationships and proportions" (to quote Mondrian), we sense the presence of the human experience as a governing principle. The tension between these two poles--naturalism and idealism--is clearly evident in Hepworth's own explanation of her approach to space and form:
The consciousness and understanding of volume and mass, laws of gravity, contour of the earth under our feet, thrusts and stresses of internal structure, space displacement and space volume, the relation of man to a mountain and man's eye to the horizon, and all laws of movement and equilibrium. These are surely the very essence of life, the principles and laws which are the vitalisation of our experience, and sculpture a vehicle for projecting our sensibility to the whole of existence. (Quoted in exh. cat., Barbara Hepworth, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London, 1972, p. 7)
In an essay published in 1973, the year after Two Slates (August) was executed, Dore Ashton eloquently demonstrated how the motif of the open circle embodies the marriage in Hepworth's art of geometric and human components:
Things and thoughts of timeless derivation lie within all of Hepworth's works. Think of the 'eye' for instance: much has been written about the modern formal intention of piercing the mass in order that space may circulate not only around but through the volumes. When Hepworth was a young member of a rebellious group that included Moore, Nicholson and Nash in the early 1930s, there was much talk of opening or relieving the mass. There was a reverence of pure form and pure space that lent itself to formal interpretations of the meaning of holes. For all that, the rounded openings--sometimes they are tunnels--read to me as eyes. The eyes are ubiquitous in Hepworth's sculptures and I think of them more and more as symbols and not holes. Not only do they symbolize the Western window of the soul, but also the Eastern and primitive eye which mythologically survives all history. If I think of the Pacific Northwest Indian, who often composed entire images with stylized eyes, or of very ancient art, preceding the grand dynasties, in which the circular symbol dominates all other forms, I know that in Hepworth's stones, and in her bronzes too, there is the interior vision which tranforms a simple circular opening into an apprehensible symbol. (D. Ashton, "Barbara Hepworth, An Appreciation," in exh. cat., Barbara Hepworth, "Conversations", Marlborough Gallery, Inc., New York, 1974, p. 5)