With Hand Sculpture, Hepworth thus returned to the graceful lyricism of her primordial form and iterated it quasi-mathematically, manipulating the overall shape, angle and placement of the incision. The signature organic minimalism and balance of the series to which the work belongs reflects her fascination with early Cycladic art, an influence nourished by a trip to the Greek islands in 1954. Now at the peak of her career, Hepworth enjoyed international renown and relative financial ease which allowed her to fully explore her creative vision without constraint. In the previous decade, she had represented Britain at the 25th Venice Biennale, exhibited in two retrospectives at the Wakefield City Art Gallery and Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, and garnered the Grand Prix at the 5th São Paulo Bienal. By 1964, Hepworth would transform the “pierced hole” series into the monumental bronze public sculptures of her late career (see fig. 2). Hand Sculpture occupies the same critical fulcrum between Hepworth’s early explorations and her late master works.
The present work explores Hepworth's enduring fascination with the hand both as a sculptor's creative tool and as a sensuous mode for interpreting the world in its own right. She noted: “My left hand is my thinking hand. The right is only a motor hand. This holds the hammer. The left hand…must be relaxed, sensitive. The rhythms of thought pass through the fingers and grip of this hand into the stone. It is also a listening hand. It listens for basic weaknesses of flaws in the stone; for the possibility or imminence of fractures” (Barbara Hepworth, A Pictorial Autobiography, 1970, p. 79). Hand Sculpture—a depiction of a single rather than pair of hands—plays with this notion of opposition between the cerebral and the physical. As the spiraling aperture draws the viewer visually and physically towards its nucleus, the work resolves Hepworth’s proposed duality and demonstrating that sculpture itself dissolves the opposition between mind and matter.
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