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Gallery 5

This gallery displays a unique collection of the surviving prototypes in plaster and aluminium from Hepworth’s studio. The majority are original plasters, on which the artist worked with her own hands. They are the first stage in the process of casting a sculpture in bronze or aluminium. Hepworth did not view these prototypes as works of art in themselves and, although she occasionally exhibited them, she never sold them.

The Hepworth Plasters

The dense display, evoking a studio environment, emphasises their character as working models and echoes the way in which Hepworth showed them in the Palais de Danse in St Ives. There is great variety of technique, texture, colour and size among the prototypes. All are made at the same scale as the resulting cast, which was of great importance to Hepworth. The centrepiece of the gallery is the aluminium prototype for Winged Figure (1961–3), commissioned by John Lewis for their headquarters in London’s Oxford Street. At nearly six metres high, this is the only working model to survive of the monumental commissions Hepworth received in later life.

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Veronica Ryan: Magnolia/Magnoliaceae

Veronica Ryan (b. 1956, Plymouth, Montserrat) is a British artist based between the UK and New York. In 1998–2000 Ryan was the first artist to undertake a residency at Hepworth’s studio in St Ives.

Throughout her career Ryan has revisited concepts that were also important to Hepworth. Both deeply attuned to the characteristics of specific materials, for Ryan this fascination stems from the inherent meanings that materials can convey. In her use of textiles, she explores the concept of domestic care, motherhood and home. In this specially commissioned new work, she has made a monumental, hand-crocheted pocket – a technique she learnt from her mother – using fishing line, inspired by Hepworth’s use of the same material to string her sculptures, and through witnessing the labour of fisherman while in St Ives.

The investigation of human experience through abstract sculpture is central to both artists’ work. Hepworth spoke of ‘the figure in the landscape’, referring to a person’s relationship to their environment. Ryan explores this interaction through material encounters. The netted pocket holds sculptures evoking the fruits and flowers of a Magnolia tree that Ryan saw recently in Hepworth’s garden in St Ives. Magnolia pods she found there have been cast and suspended on the wall nearby.

These irregular, organic structures remind Ryan of soursop fruits found in Montserrat, memories that relate to her mother who migrated to the UK from the Caribbean and would travel across London to source familiar fruit and vegetables. Ryan has cast several sculptures in plaster, the liquid form capturing both the textures and details of the surface ‘skin’ when casting copies of organic forms, and the inner, negative form of man-made containers. This dual process offers a metaphorical reflection on what we hold, and what holds us.

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

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