Conceived in 1968, Four Figures Waiting is an encapsulation of much of the theory that Barbara Hepworth had been investigating throughout her working life. The work draws together the diverse strands of organic-derived forms of the post-war period and the abstract modernist sculpture of the pre-WWII years. In works such as Four Figures Waiting we see the synthesis of Hepworth’s artistic ambitions. The interaction between upright human forms was one that was particularly prevalent in her later works, culminating in the large groups, The Family of Man of 1970 (BH513) and Conversation with Magic Stones of 1973 (BH567). The present sculpture typifies her exploration of the nature and dynamics of human interactions. Throughout her career, Hepworth had been grouping together forms in balanced discursive compositions, but her later sculptures became increasingly related to totemic, primitive figures referencing groups such as the Easter Island stones and Native American structures. Indeed, Hepworth herself described the upright figures of Conversation with Magic Stones in terms of 'the majesty of totems', an epithet that could easily refer to the vertical elegance of the present work.
The pierced forms are a direct reference to another important strand of her sculptural language and to her seminal work Pierced Form 1932, now sadly lost. Whilst a number of European sculptors had introduced piercings into their work much earlier, notably Archipenko and Lipchitz, this had tended to be organic and related to the stylisation of their subject. Hepworth's use of a non-objective piercing of the form appears to pre-date that of her contemporary and friend Henry Moore by somewhere approaching a year. Whilst such questions of dating are difficult to pin down, what is irrefutable is that Hepworth's introduction of this element 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. Hepworth incorporates the concept of positive and negative space into her abstract forms, and she weaves the surrounding space into her sculpture by piercing one standing form to allow light and air to flow through the bronze. This investigation of space then becomes a question of human interaction amongst themselves and their environment. Through an abstract pictorial language, the figures become a universal image of humanity and reflects the artist's fascination with the relationship between man and nature.
Other casts are held in the collection of the Cecil Higgins Museum, Bradford and the Hakone Open-Air Museum, Hakone, Japan.
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