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The Visitor Services Team at The Hepworth Wakefield decided to go on an excursion to the seaside town of Robin Hood’s Bay, near Whitby in North Yorkshire, where Barbara Hepworth spent her summer holidays between 1909 and 1920.
We knew that Hepworth was heavily influenced by the Yorkshire landscape and that, even though she eventually settled in St. Ives in Cornwall, her early experiences of the rugged West Yorkshire countryside as well as the coastal scenery of North East England continued to inspire her throughout her career.
Was it pure coincidence that Hepworth made her home in the quaint, seaside resort of St. Ives – from 1950 until her death in 1975 – a town with many similarities to Robin Hood’s Bay?
We wanted to follow in her footsteps and see firsthand the place where she spent so much time as a young girl. Could we find a direct correlation between the land/seascapes of Robin Hood’s Bay and Hepworth’s work?
As part of their exhibition, Anna, at The Hepworth Wakefield, Heather and Ivan Morison asked a number of Visitor Services Assistants to enact their (the artists’) interpretation of the novel Ice by Anna Kavan (following strict instructions) using specially created puppets. The show was 22 minutes long and took place every Saturday and Wednesday at 3.00. An audio track of narration by three characters from the story – The Girl, The Warden and The Child – played throughout the show, so that the puppets’ “voices” reverberated around the gallery providing the audience with the characters’ perspectives and conversations with each other. You can hear some of the audio track here.
The puppets were difficult to manipulate at first, even after we had had training from master puppeteer Owen Glynne Davies and Ivan Morison. Gradually, however, as we became more and more familiar with The Girl (Anna) and The Warden and their idiosyncrasies, it became a little easier to control their movements.
I felt an attachment to them – despite my initial reservations. Both puppets are pretty creepy-looking and I think some of the younger visitors may be having puppet-themed nightmares for a few years to come. Nevertheless, as we (the VSAs) developed our own daft stories about their lives (The Warden likes to moonwalk and eat Cadbury’s chocolate fingers; Anna’s looking for a good deal on a spray tan in time for summer), they seemed to take on new personae; to become less intimidating. I projected aspects from my world – the mundane, everyday world of eating chocolate biscuits in the staff room and reading Heat magazine when no one’s looking – onto the puppets, which created humour (well I laughed anyway) through bathos: the sublime to the ridiculous.
I suppose this is appropriate in a way as the Morison’s state that ‘Anna considers our understanding of the world through myth, and how meaning comes to us through storytelling’. These objects – these articulated, carved, wooden puppets with their wiry horsehair and unnervingly realistic glass eyes – became elements in our stories as well as featuring in that iterative performance of the “official” narrative created by the Morison’s, which was itself adapted from Anna Kavan.
As I controlled the puppet (we took it in turns to play Anna and The Warden), I sometimes wondered if Heather and Ivan were having a bit of a laugh at our expense – they controlled our movements from afar: even in their absence, every Wednesday and Saturday at 3.00, we would take to the stage (Gallery 10) and act out the same story. We became their puppets.
Anyone seen Being John Malkovich?!
Here are some photographs of my last ever performance with The Girl and The Warden. I will be sad to see them go.
There is another performance of the puppet show, the final one, this Saturday at 3.00 in Gallery 10. The temporary exhibitions (Galleries 7-10) will close on Sunday so that we can install the next exhibition, which features Richard Long and Luke Fowler.
Goodbye you little wooden buggers. You will be sorely missed.
You can see some more of my photographs of the puppets here.
Yesterday was really bloody exciting! Gallery 3 of The Hepworth Wakefield opened to the public showcasing the new exhibition of post-war British sculpture and painting.
I crept upstairs to have a sneaky peek at 9.45 a.m. and was stunned by how different this room looks now. Until last week, the exhibition in Gallery 3 was entitled ‘Hepworth in Context’ and explored Barbara Hepworth’s work in relation to that of some of her European contemporaries (idols, friends, lovers…), such as Constantin Brancusi and Ben Nicholson. I’d grown very fond of Brancusi’s Danaide and John Skeaping’s Woman and Bird, so I’d been feeling a little sad that I wouldn’t be able to admire them again for a while. However, my blues were instantly dispelled upon seeing the current offering.
The brand new exhibition, which will be installed until November, features work by Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, David Bomberg, Frank Auerbach, Graham Sutherland, Anthony Caro, Eduardo Paolozzi and Robert Adams (amongst others). It explores art from the 1950s, the decade succeeding the end of World War II, and really shows how artists at that time were struggling to come to terms with the atrocities of war and the return to everyday routines. It deals with such themes as alienation, shame and the frailty of the human body. I get a real sense that these artists were trying to represent a complete breakdown of individuals’ confidence in the strength of their bodies and their minds. During the world wars, strong, young men had been killed and mutilated; brave, efficient soldiers had been reduced to stammering, nervous wrecks. In World War II, yes the Allies defeated the Axis, but at what cost? Britain was plunged into a state of economic ruin, some 450,900 Britons had died and thousands more had been injured – scarred psychologically as well as physically. The nation had been destabilised; reality had been destabilised.
In Gallery 3, Skeaping’s smooth, curvaceous alabaster beauty has been replaced with a grotesque, pock-marked hag rising up cumbersomely from slumber: Anthony Caro’s fabulously revolting Woman Waking Up.
The awkward angle of this figure, sprawling on her back, is echoed by Henry Moore’s Fallen Warrior and also Michael Andrew’s A Man who Suddenly Fell Over.
The latter shows the complete upsetting of someone’s apparently secure equilibrium – it’s a snapshot of that moment, just after you’ve fallen over (come on, we’ve all done it at some time or other), when you attempt to make out as though nothing at all has happened, when your face does that funny, contorted smile thing as you try to express absolute nonchalance: ‘What? Oh, that?… I meant to do that’. Your eyes betray you; your eyes say, ‘WTF just happened?!’
Perhaps these three clumsy figures could be seen to symbolise 1950s Britain: shocked, unbalanced and squirming on its back. The artists reject the ideal for the real, seeking to portray the human condition honestly in all its horrible, nauseating, tedious, embarrassing grittiness. This is Art, bloated and bleary-eyed at 6 a.m. with a hangover and no makeup on.
Some of the pieces here are from the Wakefield Art Collection, but many are on loan from the Tate, the Arts Council and private lenders. Having, not one but, TWO Francis Bacons in one room is mega for THW – and alongside Lucian Freud no less!
The two pieces that really grabbed my attention upon entering this space for the first time were Eduardo Paolozzi’s The Cage and Robert Adams’ Apocalyptic Figure (no image available sadly).
To get a real sense of the physicality of the sculptures and paintings discussed here, you really need to visit Gallery 3 and see it for yourself. Frank Auerbach had a very distinctive manner of painting which involved super thick layers of paint being smeared and daubed onto a canvas. You can’t really see the very 3D nature of this painting from a 2D reproduction. Seeing his E.O.W. Nude yesterday for the first time brought back memories of when I saw my first Van Gogh; it truly is painting as sculpture.
The same can be said of David Bomberg’s Double Self Portrait – his style of painting was so audacious at the time that he actually got kicked out of the Slade in 1913 for being too unconventional! Now there’s an accolade.
There’s definitely a dark, shadowy presence looming over Gallery 3, perhaps its that ominous pairing of Francis Bacon’s Untitled (Crouching Nude) and Graham Sutherland’s alien-crustacean-insectoid Head III – a double whammy of nightmarish spectral form that dominates a whole wall.
It’s a refreshing change from the previous exhibition of pretty, abstract, minimalist modernism. Personally, I feel that there’s far more to get one’s cerebral teeth into. I also think it fits in well with some of the temporary exhibitions: Ben Rivers’ post-apocalyptic, science-fiction film Slow Action, showing in Gallery 9, and Heather and Ivan Morrison’s splendidly creepy interpretation of Anna Kavan’s novel Ice, Anna, in Gallery 10.
Looking forward to spending some more time invigilating this one… although also slightly nervous after hearing that the contents of this room are insured for more than it cost to build the gallery. Eeek.
A recurring theme in the work of Dame Barbara Hepworth is that of mother and child. Hepworth had four children herself: Paul Skeaping (whose father was John Skeaping – Hepworth’s first husband), born in 1929; and the triplets – Simon, Rachel and Sarah Hepworth-Nicholson (the product of Hepworth’s marriage to second husband Ben Nicholson), born in 1934. No doubt Hepworth’s own experiences of motherhood inspired her work. It is a theme that has universal appeal: some of us are mothers, but all of us have/had mothers.
Through an examination of some of Hepworth’s sculptures, which explore this theme, it is possible to see her gradual movement towards abstraction.
Mother and Child
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
The sculpture pictured below (Mother and Child, 1934), is currently on display in Gallery 3 at The Hepworth Wakefield and is one of my favourite pieces in this gallery (my other favourite is John Skeaping’s Woman and Bird).
The two smooth pebbles that make up this sculpture have been carved from the same block of pink ancaster stone, and yet here Hepworth decided to separate the ‘mother’ from the ‘child’ – emphasising that the mother and child are of one flesh and, at the same time, each is an independent individual.
What I particularly love about this sculpture is that Hepworth, perhaps at this point not entirely comfortable with whole-heartedly embracing the purely abstract, is still attempting to cling on to the figurative – seen through her decision to place two tiny eyeholes, which look as though they were poked into the stone with a pencil, in the mother’s “head”.
Mother and Child
Pink ancaster stone
The Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield
Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure, 1936 (currently on display at Tate Britain as part of the Picasso and Modern British Art exhibition) possesses a similar crudely-carved “eye” as well as a navel – both recall the type of naive graffiti often etched into school desks with a compass.
The Wakefield Art Collection
Large and Small Form
Pier Art Centre, Stromness, Orkney
According to Tate’s website, Hepworth carved the sculpture below while she was pregnant with the triplets.
Mother and Child
Two Forms, 1937, also currently resides in Gallery 3 at The Hepworth Wakefield. Although perhaps not a direct reference to the mother and child theme, I still interpret the larger of the two beautiful pieces of Serravezza marble as “mother” and the smaller as “child”.
Private collection, on loan to The Hepworth Wakefield
Child with Mother, 1972, illustrates Hepworth’s departure from the figurative in her later work. This sculpture was created just three years before her death in 1975 – in an accidental fire at Trewyn Studio. She was aged 72.
Child with Mother
There are many examples of Hepworth’s work that can be seen to be a celebration of motherhood, however, whenever I see these works, I am always reminded that Hepworth’s personal experience of motherhood was tainted by the death of her first son, Paul, who died in 1953 in a plane crash while serving with the Royal Air Force in Thailand. After Paul’s death, Hepworth carved a memorial to him entitled Madonna and Child, which can be found in St Ives parish church:
Madonna and Child
St Ives Parish Church
I dedicate this post to my best friend Sarah Williams and her gorgeous daughter Annabelle Grace Williams (born 15th July 2011). Together, in my opinion, they are prettier than any of Barbara’s masterpieces.
‘David Thorpe’s installation comprises new watercolours and meticulously crafted sculptural works, presented for the first time in Europe. Thorpe’s sculptures explore his interest in rehabilitating ancient craftsmanship and labour-intensive artisanal techniques. Drawing on the Arts and Crafts Movement and the work of William Morris and John Ruskin, Thorpe explores new forms of utopianism, where past and present intersect’. (Information from The Hepworth Wakefield website).
‘Endeavours and Private Lives (both 2010) allude to the aesthetics and theories of the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th century […]. Thorpe’s large pattern-covered objects have been executed with the collaborative assistance of skilled artisans trained in recreating labour-intensive medieval recipes for making paint and ceramic moulds’. (Information from the Saatchi Gallery website).
Come and see these strange, Morris-esque boxes and tiled screens; listen to the monotonous hum, which increases as you approach The Collaborator; marvel at incredible craftsmanship, for example, the innumerable, hand-cut pieces of coloured leather assembled upon the surfaces of large, plaster cubes to form intricate, organic patterns; and be blinded (literally… but only momentarily) by enlightenment, upon peering into the secret, inner cavities of Private Lives and Quiet Lives.*
* Check it out – it’s cool – but please, whatever you do, don’t touch (this includes patting, rubbing, stroking, pushing, massaging, licking, kicking, punching, head-butting and eating) the art (unless you really want to freak out all the gallery attendants).
P.S. Please don’t freak us out. We’re all quite nice really. Thanks.
Today was the opening day of The Hepworth Wakefield’s Spring exhibition, which features art by David Thorpe, Ben Rivers and Heather & Ivan Morison. At 3.00, the Morisons’ puppet show, Anna, took place in Gallery 10. I was one of the puppeteers, or “manipulators” as marionette operators are known. The show is based on Anna Kavan’s novel, Ice.
The puppets, Anna and The Warden, are pretty creepy I think you’ll agree…
After the show, The Warden and I hung out in the staff room and shared a chocolate finger: a reward for our efforts.
Here are some pics of the Morisons’ exhibition in Gallery 10.
I am very, very excited about tomorrow! I will be attending a training session with Ivan Morison and Owen Glynne Davies to become a puppeteer for the Heather and Ivan Morison puppet show, which will be part of The Hepworth Wakefield’s Spring exhibition (opening this Saturday – 11th February 2012 – and running until 10th June 2012).
Up until now, I’ve only managed to snatch the occasional furtive glimpse of what is going on in galleries 7-10 (the temporary exhibition galleries) through gaps in the door and on the CCTV screen. Yesterday there was a spell of drilling and a cacophony of banging – followed by a nauseating waft of paint fumes and the sudden expulsion of black tissue-paper scraps, which gushed out from under a door and all over the floor of gallery 1.
Puppeteers have been told that the role, ‘may not be quite what you would expect from the title of ‘Puppeteer’’, and have been asked to attend the training session, ‘with an open mind’. So folks, you have as much idea of what we’ll be doing as we do right now!
Heather and Ivan Morison have used puppets before in their art. Mr Clevver (2010-2011) was a ‘traveling sculptural artwork in the form of a puppet theatre’, which toured ‘the less-traveled side roads and small rural settlements in western and north-western Tasmania’. For more information about Mr Clevver, and to see some lovely photos of the puppets, click here.
The Morisons’ new body of work, to be exhibited at THW, will incorporate, ‘a range of structures and objects that allude to science fiction, autobiography and fairy-tales’ (information from the THW Spring 2012 Gallery Guide). The puppet show will be called Anna and will draw on the life and work of 20th century British novelist Anna Kavan.
Guess who’ll be dreaming of puppets tonight. I just hope it doesn’t all go a bit Lady Purple!