Our Collections feature new garment styles, including different varieties of smocks—inspired in part by the workwear of seminal female artists like Lee Bontecou, Louise Bourgeois, and Barbara Hepworth. Hepworth particularly kept to a distinctive style of work garments like aprons, hooded jackets, and the beloved smock.
Hepworth was a British sculptor whose career spanned five decades, and she created over 600 sculptures over the course of her lifetime. She was what is known as a direct carver—an artist who works using the actual material, rather than making mock-ups or models before beginning work. Her sculptures focused on form and abstraction, but also represented the relationships between the shape of the human body, natural landscapes, textures, and colors. She allowed the physical characteristics of her material to guide the shape and direction of each piece.
She believed that her work was meant to be handled, explored, and leaned against, rather than being displayed behind glass or in a restricted gallery setting. “I think every sculpture must be touched,” she said. “It’s part of the way you make it, and it’s really our first sensibility. It is the sense of feeling, it is first one we have when we’re born. I think every person looking at a sculpture should use his own body. You can’t look at a sculpture if you are going to stand stiff as a ramrod and stare at it, with a sculpture you must walk around it, bend toward it, touch it, and walk away from it.
During a time when sculpture (and art in general) was a male-dominated field, Hepworth became a highly recognizable and renowned figure. Rather than adapt to the masculine approach, she embraced her feminine point of view—injecting her experience as a mother and a woman into the curved silhouettes of her sculptures. A mother of four children, she examined maternity through her art over the course of her lifetime. “A woman artist is not deprived by cooking and having children, nor by nursing children with measles. One is in fact nourished by this rich life, provided one always does some work each day.”
Visit the Tate’s website to see archival footage from an interview with the artist from 1973.
First image: St Ives, Cornwall, England, May 1957, English sculptor Barbara Hepworth pictured with some of her completed works. Photograph: Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images