We are grateful to Dr. Sophie Bowness for her kind assistance with the cataloguing of the present work, which will feature in her forthcoming revised catalogue raisonné of the Artist's sculpture as catalogue number BH513d.
The monumental standing form, Parent I, is one of the central figures of the group. Although abstract in form, its totemic composition of stacked irregular shaped lozenges is endowed with a human and spiritual quality – she explained in a statement in 1970: ‘I’m not exactly the sculpture in the landscape any more. I think of the works as objects which rise out of the land or the sea, mysteriously. You can’t make a sculpture without it being a thing – a creature, a figure, a fetish…. Any stone standing in the hills here is a figure, but you have to go further than that. What figure? And which countenance?... I like to dream of things rising from the ground - it would be marvellous to walk in the woods and suddenly come across such things or to meet a reclining form’ (The Artist, quoted in Alan Bowness (ed.), The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-69, Lund Humphries, 1971, p.13). With nine monumental figures, the series thus becomes a universal survey of humanity, acknowledging both civilisations past and present and also humankind’s aspirations for the future. Hepworth wanted people to identify with these sculptures and considered them very much as a group of several generations, including the ancestor figures who ‘are right in my bones’.
Like the family to which they allude, the form of each figure resembles one another through recurring motifs, but the composition of each form also becomes more complex, rising from two to four distinct components as they mature. The vocabulary of these sculptures are undoubtedly reminiscent of her early works and pierced carvings such as Pierced Form (1932, BH35) and Pierced Form (1931, destroyed) – Hepworth’s introduction of piercing greatly enriched the possibilities of abstract sculpture by abolishing the concept of a closed, and thus entire, form and brought the individual sculpture firmly into the environment within which it was placed. She spoke frankly about what she hoped to achieve: ‘I have always been interested in oval or ovoid shapes… the weight, poise, and curvature of the ovoid as a basic form. The carving and piercing of such a form seems to open up an infinite variety of continuous curves in the third dimension…’ (The Artist, ‘Approach to Sculpture’, The Studio, vol.132, no.643, October 1946). Although cast in bronze, the surface texture of Parent I appears hand finished and reflects the method Hepworth devised enabling her to both carve and cast: using an expanded metal armature (fig 2), she then covered this in large quantities of plaster which could then be carved back. Once cast, the intricately worked surface could be further enlivened with the application of a coloured patina creating dynamic contrasts between differing elements of each work. The monumental majesty of each figure recalls the influence of prehistoric menhirs and stone circles which had inspired her since she moved to Cornwall in 1939 (fig 3). As such, Parent I evokes a timeless, totemic quality in its solidity and curvilinear formation. Although harking back to prehistoric times, this epic work is also decidedly modern: the individual components are not layered facing forward, but at varying angles, making Parent I an almost semi-animate form, caught mid-movement, slowly turning as if responding to a call. Hepworth considered Parent I as the universal mother of the family and the female characteristics can be seen in the curves and softness of her forms when compared with the father figure, Parent II, with its imposing stature and in Hepworth’s own words ‘terrific spikey sturdiness’. Speaking about Parent I in 1972 she asserted: ‘she is very female obviously, she is voluptuous, if she isn’t carrying a child she has had about twenty’.
Drawing on her own personal experiences as a parent, mother, sculptor and wife, Parent I unites all the artist’s principal concerns throughout her life, exploring old concerns anew and bringing a freshness and vitality rarely seen in the twilight of a career.
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