Barbara Hepworth exhibition and What Artists Wear

posted in: Inspiration | 10

There is still time to see a marvellous exhibition of Barbara Hepworth’s work at the Tate Britain. Arguably one of Britain’s greatest artists many of her amazing, large, modernist sculptures can be seen in London and across the UK.  Winged Figure (on the left, below) adorns the side of John Lewis in Oxford Street. Many of our parks and gardens have a Hepworth, and you can visit her St Ives studio and see many more. This is accessible, beautiful, public art at it’s best. The one of the right was sadly stolen from Dulwich Park.

I have always found her work fascinating and exciting, especially those you can touch. The exhibition includes photographs of the artist, at work, from the 1930s through to her death in 1975, which gave me a chance to inspect her clothes. Many of her outfits appear classic but also contemporary and could be worn right now – for example in her flared linen skirt, stripey T, felt beret and what look like Saltwater sandals she reminded me of the Tilly Buttons look.

Hepworth’s working clothes are just right too. She wears practical, working clothes. Casting statues in hot metal, or carving wood, is intensely physial activity and we see Hepworth wearing a jumpsuit, or a zippered cotton jacket in many of the pictures, her hair pulled back in a scarf to protect it from dust and dirt. She enjoyed working outside too.

While the allure of the utterly practical is obvious in these stills, there is another factor at play, is there not? Artists are more free to express themselves than the rest of us who must conform, to some extent, in our workwear. Their design sensitivities and in Hepworth’s case a strong, athletic body, allows the artist to create an elegant and timeless look – one which has inspired fashion too. I was interested to see that one of our very Hepworthian designers, Margaret Howell (who incidentally has a shop just a stone’s throw from John Lewis), has created a series of clothes based on Hepworth’s own wardrobe. These items, at high prices, are available in the Tate shop.  I think you can find some of these items in your local hardware store, but the chalk white shirt, with an asymmetric fastening, is nice.

10 Responses

  1. Loved Hepworth my whole life (haunting St Ives, Yorkshire sculpture park and now the Wakefield gallery). In summer Lily Cole explored artist mothers for BBC Artsnight and Hepworth’s freedom in that role, or the impact of the fact of being artist first and always, was stunning to reflect on. Many kids, no hands on.

  2. This is so interesting, K. I was not familiar with Hepworth. I love her outfits, which are perfectly understated and make me think of Katharine Hepburn (Tilly and the Button veers in a different direction for me). We don’t have a Margaret Howell store here but there’s one in Florence and I’ve been photographing outfits to remember them from the windows for a while. Gianni scoffs at the prices for the clothing given how simple it is, but quite a few pieces appeal to me. There was a particular pair of pants with tabs at the bottom that I loved in spring. I am now going to check out Barbara Hepworth’s art.

  3. I wish American exhibits would include pictures of what artists wear (or even pictures of their faces.) It is fascinating to see how artists mix their passion for the creation of art and the creation of their everyday image.

  4. I didn’t know of Hepworth, but must find out more about her. The picture of her in the red scarf is really fascinating….what is she thinking? Always been interested in the “behind scenes” interests and styles of artists. My dear friend is a silversmith, and she has a similar style to Hepworth, but a little “looser”. The chalky white shirt certainly is wonderful!

  5. My favorite artists in terms of what they wore (or at least were photographed in) are Georgia O’Keeffe and Frida Kahlo. Frida with her gorgeous Mexican folk wear and Georgia with her slightly masculine but extremely feminine look that was always perfectly accessorized with hand wrought jewelry and scarves.

    • I love Frida too; she is one of the world’s most stylish women (artist or not). I did a post on her style. I will have to look up O’Keefe – I have one of her poppy pictures in my office.

  6. I love Barbara Hepworth’s work and I also love that white shirt – it is described as something to wear while working in your artist’s studio but I’m not sure I’d want to get it messy at that price!

  7. I visited her St Ives garden in June this year and was overwhelmed. A very talented lady, very practical clothing, and a lesson to learn about smoking in bed. A sad loss, I’m sure she had so much more to show us.

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