Barbara Hepworth by Barbara Hepworth

by Dame Barbara Hepworth, oil and pencil on board, 1950
Barbara Hepworth, Self-portrait, 1950 (oil and pencil on board)

For those who enjoyed the recent Dame Barbara Hepworth retrospective at Tate Britain, here is a self-portrait which she produced in 1950, done in oil and pencil on board.

The beauty of this portrait lies in its simplicity. In what is little more than an elaborate sketch, Hepworth has rendered a representation of herself as sculptor, her eye focused on her hand which is resting on a block of material, possibly of marble, and she has such an intense gaze that we can imagine that she is trying to discover the shape which is hidden within the material, or perhaps trying to decide whether the idea or shape she has in her mind will find its form within the medium she is touching. Touch to her was paramount, as she stated:

“I think every sculpture must be touched, it’s part of the way you make it and it’s really our first sensibility, it is the sense of feeling, it is first one we have when we’re born. I think every person looking at a sculpture should use his own body. You can’t look at a sculpture if you are going to stand stiff as a ram rod and stare at it, with a sculpture you must walk around it, bend toward it, touch it and walk away from it.”

The sketch itself can be seen as a preliminary study for a sculpture, the theme of which, is not so much the individual person but the art itself, the vocation of sculptor. The form is stripped down to the essentials as it would or could be if rendered in stone or bronze.

It is not an abstract but it does demonstrate how the great abstracts were produced through a process of reduction, of paring away of unnecessary detail to maximize the impact of the essential shape, which is to say, the essential space that the sculpture displaces. The portrait captures the texture and smoothness of stone and at the same time proposes an eventual transfer of energy, of breath from one medium to another, a process which lies at the heart of all artistic activity.

Barbara Hepworth was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire in 1903. She was a leading modernist figure in the international art scene throughout a career spanning five decades until her death in 1975. The self-portrait can be seen at the National Portrait Galley off Charing Cross Road.

Duane Hanson says howdy!

sackler_cowboy entrance

To enter the exhibition of sculptures by the American artist, Duane Hanson (1925–1996), currently at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, is to enter a world in which the ordinary has been transformed into the extraordinary. Eschewing the world of typical icons, of the rich and the famous, Hanson preferred to capture the beauty of what is familiar, the beauty of those who surround us everyday, on buses, on trains, in the streets, and among the populations that visit museums and galleries. For although these lifelike sculptures portray working-class Americans, by extension they portray everyone of us. Beauty is truth, truth beauty!

This highly political, democratic art is intended to draw attention to the abiding dignity and the nobility of everyman and everywoman, the common people “who don’t stand out”, the voters, the humble citizens, those who engage in unskilled or manual or blue-collar occupations, a house painter, a man who cleans the streets with a broom and hand cart, an elderly couple who in their days of retirement sit on benches in parks or wait for buses, people engaged in ordinary life. There is an installation of children sitting on the floor playing board games with their mother; another of workmen on site in their hard hats.

As one critic has pointed out: “Duane Hanson invites people to see things as if for the very first time, things that they have ignored or simply have not seen because they lead such blinkered lives.” Art adds vision, which is conscious being. Art is enrichment of the human soul, art moves individuals spiritually and emotionally, and all art is an act of solidarity, we’re all in this together!

And if you’re thinking “sounds a bit like Madame Tussaud’s,” forget it, no comparison! The hyper-realistic nature of Hanson’s sculptures results directly from his scrupulous artistic approach. Using polyester resin, he would cast figures from live models in his studio, paying attention to every detail, from body hair to veins and bruises. The sculptures were assembled, adapted and finished meticulously, with the artist hand-picking clothes and accessories. So breathtaking you can almost hear them breathe!


The directors of the Sackler Gallery have said in their publicity material: “Duane Hanson’s iconic sculptures of ordinary people will literally stop visitors in their tracks this summer. Beyond the stunning realism, the power of Hanson’s work lies in his unwavering focus on and sympathy for the human condition.

Believe me, they ain’t kidding! ¡Adiós, amigos!

Hell freezing over. . . ?

herringSo did our blogsworth sit upon his crestfallen hands this sunny summer’s afternoon and pine away the hours with heavy heart? He did not. He lunched heartily upon herring in an exquisite mango and peppercorn sauce, with a side of lettuce firm to the bite and a modest helping of potatoes, fresh and tender on the palate. Whereupon with feet shod in his dear DMs, he capered down to the tracks and rode the railway all the way into London town.

Dislodging from the Tube at Lancaster Gate, he strolled into the sumptuous grounds of Hyde Park and struck out in the direction of the Old Magazine, home now, and proudly so, to the wonderful Sackler Gallery.


En route he could not fail to admire the ornate Italian Gardens, which in 1860 had been commissioned by Prince Albert as an adoring gesture of love for his beloved Queen Vic. Our hero’s heart sank a little!

But next, a majestic white swan on the lake rode beside him and led him on, and on, until he passed The Arch, a 6-metre sculpture by Henry Moore: created in 1978, from Roman travertine marble, it recalls the towering stone blocks of Stonehenge or the triumphal arches of antiquity. To think that it had been inspired by a mere fragment of bone the size of a small bird, made our hero think.

And so finally on to the Sackler Gallery, to take in the very different but equally remarkable sculptures by American artist, Duane Hanson, on exhibition until 13 September, more of which on the morrow.

That evening, as he lay beneath his duvet, one eye about to follow the other into the depths of sleep, he sensed a sudden chill. Temperature falling? Hell freezing over? Who could say? He would die an unrecovered optimist!