Title: Curved Form (Bryher II)
Artist: Barbara Hepworth (1903-75)
Medium: Cast bronze with green and brown patina and stainless steel strings
Credit: Gift of Leigh B. Block, 1988.3.2
Though abstract, Barbara Hepworth’s Curved Form (Bryher II) evokes a whole host of images rooted in the natural world. Installed on a grassy mound near the Northwestern University Arts Circle, the seven-foot sculpture resembles a human-sized leaf, while the small engravings on its surface create a stone-like texture. Part of an entire series incorporating string or wire elements, the sculpture features stainless steel strings that are “threaded” along the edge and stretched across in a crisscross design that evokes a spider web. The sculpture folds inwards at the sides, like a living being that is reaching out towards the viewers and wrapping around them.
Hepworth was interested in linking her outdoor sculptures with their surrounding environments and the viewer. She created abstract shapes that resembled organic forms as well as fractured her sculptures with holes to allow air and light to flow through and nature to be seen in them. When making larger sculptures, she was primarily concerned with scale and how it affected people’s perspective of the work, which account for the vertical composition and human size of this sculpture.
Moreover, Hepworth became particularly inspired by the seascape of Cornwall, England, where she moved to in 1939 to escape the Second World War and lived until her death. She was compelled to make this sculpture after sailing around Bryher, an island near Cornwall. Drawing inspiration from “the water, the island, the movement” and “the relationship between the sea and the land”, Hepworth created a work that was not so much a visual representation of the landscape as a reflection of her physical experience of sailing (Bowness 2015, 233). The work is also one of the earliest in a series that culminated in Single Form (Memorial), a similar-looking sculpture dedicated to her friend Dag Hammarskjold, the UN secretary general at the time who died in a plane crash in 1961.
As a Northwestern student, initially, I didn’t think much of these sculptures as I walked by them day after day; however, through my research as a Curatorial Intern, Curved Form (Bryher II) has become one of my favorite sculptures on campus. I am captivated by the way in which Barbara Hepworth understood nature and represented the world around her. Her approaches to sculpture have helped me appreciate abstract art. Through researching her work, I have become intrigued by the concept of materialization. How artists act on their ideas and emotions, dedicate time and energy to turn their thoughts into physical forms, and present their creations to the public amazes me. Instead of dismissing art that I cannot easily comprehend, I have learned to acknowledge and admire the process of creating. I pause and ask myself: when was the last time I created?
–Contributed by Curatorial Intern, Isabella Ko (BA, Art History & French 2020)
- Bowness, Alan. The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-1969. London: Lund Humphries, 1971.
- Bowness, Sophie. Barbara Hepworth: Writings and Conversations. London: Tate Publishing, 2015.
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