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.