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Justine Hopkins, contrapuntal forms; further notes
Thursday 07 June 2018

CONTRAPUNTAL FORMS: BARBARA HEPWORTH AND TERRY FROST

The beauty of abstract art is that if it feels right in my head and eye and big

toe, then I know I have got something. You get the feel for landscape art

through your feet. You have to be intimate with it ... discover something while

you are actually wandering around ... the subject matter is in fact the

sensation evoked by the movements and the colour ...[Terry Frost]

In 1950 Barbara Hepworth asked Terry Frost to be her studio assistant in

carving a monumental stone sculpture, Contrapuntal Forms, the work she was

sending to the 1951 Festival of Britain. She was already widely known for her

abstract sculpture; he had recently graduated from Camberwell School of Art where

he had gone as a mature student returning to painting after spending much of the

War in a Bavarian prison camp. Camberwell had been something of a

disappointment: still committed to a realism based on the meticulous rendering of

figures in their environment, carefully planned and exactly measured, where Frost

was already becoming aware of a preference for the abstraction of the younger

avant-garde artists, among whom Hepworth and her then husband, Ben Nicholson,

were the acknowledged leaders.

At the time of the Festival of Britain Hepworth and Frost were already

neighbours on the Cornish coast at St Ives; he was her first studio assistant and their

successful co-operation, with Contrapuntal Forms one of the sculptural high points of

the event, set a pattern for her which saw some of the notable sculptors of the next

generations passing through her Trenwith studio. Frost himself moved on, always

primarily interested in painting, but the two remained friends in the years that

followed, drawn together by their passionate belief in art as the expression of

emotion and experience, and in the power of abstraction to convey this most clearly.

Both, in their different media, pursued the same goal: the exploration of form, space,

shape and colour in the changing light not only of the Cornish coast on their doorstep

but further afield, from Yorkshire and the Midlands to Greece and even California,

although however far they travelled both were always drawn back to Cornwall again,

the ultimate source of the works which brought them international reputation and

national honours.

Dame Barbara Hepworth died in 1975; Sir Terry Frost RA in 2003. This

lecture considers and celebrates the achievement of these two remarkable artists,

who brought to the cold geometries of abstraction an extra dimension of human

warmth and vitality.

My left hand is my thinking hand. The right is only a motor hand. This holds

the hammer. The left hand, the thinking 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]

READING SUGGESTIONS:

Terry Frost Warm Frost: Inspirations 2003 [Alison Hodge]

Barbara Hepworth Barbara Hepworth: A Pictorial Biography 1985

[Tate Publishing]

Roger Bristow Terry Frost: A Painter’s Life 2013 [Sansom & Co]

Mel Gooding & Isabel Carlisle Terry Frost: Six Decades 2000 [Royal Academy]

Chris Stephens Terry Frost (Tate British Artists) 2015 [Tate Publishing]

Terry Frost (St Ives Artists) 2000 [Tate Publishing]

Sophie Bowness Barbara Hepworth: Writings and Conversations 2015

[Tate Publishing]

Penelope Curtis Barbara Hepworth (St Ives Artists) 2001 [Tate Publishing]

with Chris Stephens Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World

2015 [Tate Publishing (exhibition catalogue)]

Sally Festing Barbara Hepworth: A Life of Forms 1995 [Viking]

Miranda Phillips The Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden 2002

[Tate Publishing]

Michael Bird The St Ives Artists: A Biography of Place and Time 2008

[Lund Humphries]

I prefer my work to be outside. I think sculpture grows in open light and with

the movement of the sun its aspect is always changing and with space and

the sky above, it can expand and breathe. [Barbara Hepworth]

And in this connection, here are some Sculpture Parks well worth visiting where you

can test the truth of Hepworth’s comment not only for her own work but as a general

truth of sculpture (and in many cases get to touch them too, with no officials to

prevent or criticise!)

• The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, St Ives, Cornwall

• The Cass Sculpture Foundation, Goodwood.

• The Henry Moore Foundation, Perry Green, Hertfordshire

• The Ironbridge Open Air Museum of Steel Sculpture, Telford, Shropshire

• The New Art Centre Sculpture Park and Gallery, Roche Court, Wiltshire

• Sausmarez Manor Art Park, Guernsey

• The Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield (you should also take the opportunity

to visit the Hepworth Wakefield ~ not a sculpture park, but with a wonderful

collection of modern art and many of Hepworth’s maquettes and working

models.)

Imagination works separately from reality. It belongs to us before reality.

Reality isn’t for long compared to imagination [Terry Frost]

A sculpture can, and sculptures do, reside in emptiness, but nothing happens

until the living human encounters the image. [Barbara Hepworth]

If you believe, it will work [Terry Frost]