Artist in context

23rd January 2004 at 00:00

The Art of Barbara Hepworth


Video: pound;14.99; DVD pound;19.99

This delightful film manages to pack into a single lesson evidence of Hepworth's prodigious output, as well as provide, with the help of a baroque soundtrack, a meditative atmosphere conducive to a real appreciation of her work in context.

"The artist" she exclaims, "tries to find a synthesis of the human experience and the quality of landscape" and through skilful art direction, the film manages to integrate her sculpture with the landscape settings so important to her as well as exemplifying purity of the form in white studio space.

Although she is heard to state that an artist shouldn't talk about her work for fear of expending energy necessary for production, the narrative, read by Gina McKee, is entirely gleaned from interviews and Hepworth's writing and gives a fascinating insight into the familial, social, political, environmental and artistic contexts of her work over her lifetime.

The film explores the importance of her early experience of the textures and topography of her West Riding hinterland and chronologically charts her path to abstraction through her early acceptance at art school, two marriages, the war years, the Festival of Britain, her growing international reputation and her final but equally productive years in her beloved St Ives.

Throughout the film we see her quest for an aesthetic equilibrium between truth to materials and truth to meaning, though, in the end, this balance did not extend into her private life and we are left with an impression of self-centred obsession at the expense of family. The film leaves a strong sense of stoic melancholy (helped by McKee's rather lugubrious reading and exemplified by Hepworth's exclamation of "Oh dear!" on the birth of her triplets), but also of hope born of an unwavering trust in art as a spiritual salve during troubled times. This video is an enjoyable, concise and very useful teaching tool.

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