Dame Barbara Hepworth

Rock Face


Not on display

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903–1975
Ancaster stone on beechwood base
Object: 1097 × 640 × 255 mm
Bequeathed by the artist 1976

Display caption

The concave front of 'Rock Face' serves to emphasise the striking conjunction of the two tones in the slab of Ancaster stone. The stratification is also visible in the holes carved through the block, which were Barbara Hepworth's characteristic way of enhancing the relationships between surfaces and forms. Both the choice of coloured material and the simple upright form were typical of her late works in which the monolith assumed ritual and spiritual significance. Although long committed to abstract form, she understood how it evoked analogues, noting: 'You can't make a sculpture without it being a thing - a creature, a figure, a fetish.'

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

T02017 Rock Face 1973

BH 560

Ancaster stone 1020 x 470 x 230 (40 1/4 x 18 5/8 x 9) on beechwood base 36 x 645 x 255 (3 x 25 3/8 x 10 1/16); weight: 185 kg

Bequeathed by the artist 1976

Barbara Hepworth 'Conversations', Marlborough Gallery, New York, March-April 1974 (15, repr. in col.)
Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, Tate Gallery Liverpool, Sept.-Dec. 1994, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Feb.-April 1995, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, May-Aug. (83, repr. p.135)

Jane Bell, 'Barbara Hepworth at the Marlborough', Arts, vol.48, 1974, p.75 (repr.)
Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1974-6, p.107, repr.
David Fraser Jenkins, Barbara Hepworth: A Guide to the Tate Gallery Collection at London and St Ives, Cornwall, 1982, p.19, repr. p.40

A.M. Hammacher, Barbara Hepworth, 1968, rev. ed. 1987, p.197, pl.177

Carved from a block of shelly limestone (Ancaster), Rock Face is most obviously characterised by its two-tone colouring. While the stone is predominantly grey, it has been cut so that a sandy brown layer spreads across the lower section of the front, reaching to the back edge of the side faces. The rounded-square holes reveal that this secondary colouring does not run the full depth of the block. The artist had used a similar piece of Ancaster stone twenty years earlier for Hieroglyph, 1953 (BH 188, Leeds City Art Gallery, repr. J.P. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, 1961, pl.188). The front of the sculpture is flat and the two sides recede obliquely to a curved back. The stone has been rubbed to give it a reflective polish, but has no coating. Its edges, including that around the bottom, are bevelled. There are several blemishes - chips and matt areas - which were probably caused while the stone was being worked. The base is of a single piece of timber and the stone is held on to it by two threaded bolts.

Hepworth's choice of material reflects the revival of colour in her later work. The static verticality resulting from the artist's economy of carving is off-set by the surface pattern of the two colours of the block intermingling in a manner suggestive of wood grain. This effect is maximised by the characteristic carving out of the frontal concavity. The flatness of the faces and the simplicity of the two holes is in marked contrast to the complex forms of her early work and reflects a general tendency towards the simplification of stone forms as seen in such works as Touchstone (Tate Gallery T02016).

As the title of that work intimates, Hepworth saw these late monolithic pieces in terms of ritual and spiritual significance. 'You can't make a sculpture without it being a thing - a creature, a figure, a fetish', she said in 1970 (Alan Bowness, ed., The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-69, 1971, p.14). The title of Rock Face suggests the duality of figure and landscape that had been a dominant aspect of her work for over thirty years. While the sculpture's frontality is suggestive of a face, it may also allude to the cliffs that are such prominent features of the landscape of west Cornwall; such a theme provided the basis for the earlier wood carving, Figure (Nanjizal) (Tate Gallery T00352). As she explained to Alan Bowness, Hepworth saw the late carvings 'as objects which rise out of the land or the sea, mysteriously' (ibid.).

Chris Stephens
March 1998

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