I understand
arrow drop search cross

Home > Barbara Hepworth Art & Life > Explore the Exhibition >

Gallery 10a & 10b

Alongside her major public commissions, Hepworth maintained a prolific sculptural output during the 1960s, making nearly as many sculptures in this decade as in her whole career up to this point.

Rhythm, Dance and Everything

In the introduction to an exhibition held at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 1962, the curator Bryan Robertson noted: ‘This artist is gradually encompassing the best work of her life. Already a formidable group of majestic giants has been unleashed and there is no sign of even momentary slackening in this creative drive.’ The Times reviewer agreed, noting that the first impression was ‘of colour. Colour and then massiveness’.

Hepworth had taken on a new studio in St Ives, the Palais de Danse, in 1961, to allow for these larger works, her major public commissions and invigorated output. A former dance hall, complete with a large mirror on one side, the space encouraged an awareness of movement. Hepworth placed her sculptures on specially made rubber-wheeled plinths, and ‘danced’ them around the studio. She would later assert of her work: ‘One is physically involved and this is sculpture… It’s rhythm and dance and everything.’

As the decade progressed, Hepworth became more explicit about the way in which sculpture encouraged physical engagement from the viewer, noting in 1968: ‘There’s no fixed point for a sculpture, there’s no fixed point at which you can see it, there’s no fixed point of light in which you can experience it, because it’s ever-changing and it’s a sensation which cannot be replaced.’

Take a tour of Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life with Google Arts & Culture

Hepworth and Riley

Hepworth’s focus on viewer interaction found particular resonance in the 1960s, when there was an increase in participatory art practices, such as installation art, in which the viewer experienced the work of art as a physical environment. She made several works that the viewer could move inside as well as around, writing in 1966: ‘Sculpture is to me an affirmative statement of our will to live: whether it be small, to rest in the hand; or larger, to be embraced; or larger still, to force us to move around it and establish our rhythm of life’.

The 1960s also saw the emergence of Op Art, in which geometric forms were used to create dynamic optical effects. Often incorporating circles and squares, these works recalled Hepworth’s pre-war visual language to which she was increasingly returning: ‘I don’t think anyone realises how much the last ten years has been a fulfilment of my youth… but going back also opens the door to brand new ideas.’ Hepworth was attuned to new developments in contemporary art, becoming the first female Tate Trustee from 1965 until 1972. This meant monthly trips to London to discuss acquisitions, among other items, at a time when works by leading Op Art painter Bridget Riley entered the Tate collection.

Riley and Hepworth exhibited together in 1964, in an expansive survey of contemporary art which included only eight women out of 170 artists. Riley wrote to Hepworth after visiting her studio some years later: ‘As an artist, your example has always been a source of encouragement and your great achievements I deeply respect.’ Riley’s paintings here were selected in consultation with the artist, who has also shared her thoughts on some of Hepworth’s sculptures in this gallery.

Take a tour of Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life with Google Arts & Culture

Sun and Moon

Hepworth lived in a time of astonishing technological advances and believed that these should inform the creative arts. The development of aviation was a case in point, from the first passenger transatlantic flights in the 1930s to the beginnings of space exploration in the 1960s. Hepworth noted at the end of the decade that the ‘discovery of flight has radically altered the shape of our sculpture, just as it has altered our thinking’.

In 1969 the first manned lunar landing took place. The BBC provided 27 hours’ coverage of the Apollo 11 mission over a 10-day period, culminating in the UK’s first all-night broadcast. The moon became a repeated presence in Hepworth’s work, with circles symbolising celestial bodies appearing across prints and sculptures made in a variety of materials. In a note titled ‘The Sun and Moon’, Hepworth reflected that observing these entities and interpreting their light effects in her work ‘expresses my deep interest in a new sense of poetry in our scientific age’.

Hepworth embraced the impact of scientific advances with a sense of spirituality, writing in 1966: ‘I regard the present era of flight and projection into space as a tremendous expansion of our sensibilities, and space sculpture and kinetic forms are an expression of it; but in order to appreciate this fully I think that we must affirm some ancient stability.’ Her celestial, circular forms appeared in a painting, Genesis III (1966), floating amid a cosmic background of spattered ink. Its biblical title suggests a connection between the forms that Hepworth related to space exploration and her continued Christian faith.

Take a tour of Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life with Google Arts & Culture

An Act of Praise

In the 1970s, Hepworth continued to experiment with new materials and techniques, while returning to the forms that had held special meaning for her since childhood. Three sculptures here show a ‘single form’, ‘two forms’ and ‘closed form’, made in her final years. These forms expressed for Hepworth the experience of the human figure in the landscape, but the landscape had now expanded to include the infinite universe.

Her repeated use of circles or spheres, while relating to space exploration, also reflect her faith in Christian Science. Its central text states that the ‘divine Mind’ – the spiritual entity of which all existence is a part – ‘is in perpetual motion. Its symbol is the sphere’. Writing in the Christian Science Monitor in 1965 Hepworth confirmed the impact of her faith on her art: ‘A sculpture should be an act of praise, an enduring expression of the divine spirit.

When asked about her future plans by the Guardian in 1973, Hepworth replied, ‘I detest a day of no work, no music, no poetry… It’s all brewing in my mind, all I want is time.’ By 1974, due to illness, she was largely confined to the upper room at Trewyn Studio, continuing to make sculpture with the aid of a few trusted assistants. She died in an accidental fire at the studio the following year. Her passion for making art remained undimmed to the end: ‘I have never never never felt bored with my work or in working. In fact I get such intense & sensuous pleasure out of it that it is almost a Yorkshire sin!

Take a tour of Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life with Google Arts & Culture


Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life by Eleanor Clayton. Buy online

Lead supporters:

With generous support from:

With special thanks to our 10th anniversary circle:

And all those who wish to remain anonymous.