Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Barbara Hepworth's drawings

Barbara Hepworth is an ex Leeds College of Art student, but she has often been in the shadow of Henry Moore. She is though really worth looking at closely, especially when she is drawing. I have always felt that these drawings of surgeons operating are wonderful examples of an artist being able to focus on the essentials of a moment. They take key elements that are central to an understanding of an activity and almost carve them in stone. 

The drawings are done on gessoed panels. This allows her to scrape and scratch into the surface. The gesso also gives a surface texture for her pencil marks to 'bite' into. The gesso layer can also be stained and colour either wiped away or sanded off. The brushstrokes left from applying the white gesso, also make a texture for colour to hold onto, in this case adding an almost stone like quality to the drawings. 

As she sands away the colour she begins to draw with light. The heads being modelled with an almost Renaissance simplicity of form, the surgeons' masks allowing us to concentrate on the eyes, the lower part of the faces often being modelled almost as direct extensions of the figures'  bodies.  When people work, the relationship between their eyes and their hands is of course essential, and Hepworth provides us with a wonderful example of how when drawing we can select out those elements which are most important to the event. This is something only hand made images can do, a photograph would simply record everything. 

Fenestration of the Ear (The Hammer) 1948

Tibia Graft. See the original in the Hepworth, Wakefield

Barbara Hepworth: Studies of surgeons' hands

These drawings of hands holding medical instruments were done as part of Hepworth's visual research for the compositional drawings further above. Notice how in the finished drawings she uses a lot of the hand shapes she has identified in her studies, however the hands were slightly simplified but not enough to lose sight of the delicate way that the surgeons were handling their instruments. Again Hepworth teaches us a useful lesson, detailed studies need to be integrated into larger compositions very carefully, not just 'copied' in. 

You can use Hepworth's example yourself. Try looking at any situation, and then see if you can picture it in your mind. Think about how your mental picture starts to simplify reality and then try and record this through drawing. As you build the drawing try and emphasise those elements that are most important and de-emphasise inessentials. 

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