Stephen Feeke - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Stephen Feeke

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Stephen Feeke

PhD student

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Barbara Hepworth: Learning to Love Bronze

The transition from carving to casting 1956-1964

Supervisor: Jo Applin

My study focuses on Barbara Hepworth and the transition she made from carving to casting, a brave decision made at a critical moment in her career. It will examine her initial reluctance towards bronze and the reasons why in 1956 – middle-aged and mid-career – she felt compelled to make such a fundamental change in her working practices, after thirty years dedicated to direct carving and the doctrine of ‘truth to materials’. I am fascinated by the impact this decision had on her, her work and on her reputation at the time, and also how it has shaped more recent assessments of her as a pioneering woman sculptor.

Hepworth declared that she finally learned to love bronze in 1966, in a letter to her then ex-husband. Until that point, her relationship with the material had often been fraught with complications. By 1964, however, her use of bronze reached an apotheosis with ‘Single Form’. Commissioned by the U.N. for its Secretariat, ‘Single Form’ was the most important commission of Hepworth’s career, but as a public, abstract sculpture by a British woman sculptor for a prominent site in New York, its impact should, I feel, be better understood. Framed by the latent (and blatant) misogyny of the period and great shifts in a quickly growing art world, I will examine the bronzes Hepworth produced between 1956 and 1964 culminating with ‘Single Form’. I shall give particular focus to the experimental nature of Hepworth’s new working methods before she found a satisfactory synthesis of form, scale and material, until, one might say, she found a ‘new’ truth to a ‘new’ material. Many of these works receive little or no critical attention now. Likewise, Hepworth’s drawings and paintings – which were key in the development of her own ‘bronze age’ – are a neglected area of study, and offer great scope for my project.

Over the course of a twenty-year career as a curator, I have been responsible for more than one hundred exhibitions; first at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds and then at the New Art Centre, Roche Court. I recently left my role as a Director of the New Art Centre in order to pursue this Ph.D., having curated several exhibitions of Hepworth’s work there, including: Barbara Hepworth: a celebration of The Hepworth Wakefield (2011); and Barbara Hepworth: Form and Theatre (2015). The New Art Centre represents the Hepworth Estate, and I also helped place Hepworth’s sculpture and paintings in a number of private and public collections including ‘Single Form (Eikon)’ at The Metropolitan Museum, New York.

Recent papers

  • ‘Hepworth and the Tache: drawings and paintings from 1957’, Hepworth Research Network, The Hepworth Wakefield, 2020
  • ‘Hepworth in the Public Realm’, Hepworth Symposium, The Heong Gallery, Downing College, Cambridge, 2019
  • ‘Barbara Hepworth: Learning to Love Bronze’, McCrum Theatre, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, 2019, in aid of Art Friends Cambridgeshire

Selected publications

  • Barbara Hepworth at the Rijksmuseum, 2022 (forthcoming).
  • ‘Serious Play’ (with Alastair Sooke), Dulwich Picture Gallery, 2021 (forthcoming).
  • ‘Des Hughes: Opus Anglicanum’, I Want to be Adored, London: Art/Books, 2018.
  • ‘Anthony Caro and Sea Music’, Anthony Caro: Sea Music, London: Ridinghouse, 2017.
  • ‘Laura Ford and Strawberry Hill’, Laura Ford Sculpture, Salisbury: New Art Centre, 2015.
  • ‘Barbara Hepworth: Inside/Outside’, Barbara Hepworth: Within the Landscape, Kendal: Lakeland Arts Trust, 2014.
  • ‘Works and Days’, Nicholas Pope, London: Ridinghouse, 2013.
  • ‘Clare Woods: The Seven Eggs’, The Seven Eggs: Works by Clare Woods, Leeds: Harewood House, 2013.
  • ‘Mary Redmond’, Function/Dysfunction, Nuremburg: Neues Museum, 2013.
  • ‘Introduction’, Caro at Chatsworth, Chatsworth House, 2012.
  • ‘Aloof’, Michael Dean: Introduction to the Principles of Symmetrical Intimacy, Freiburg: Kunstverein Freiburg, 2011.
  • ‘The Art of Curating’, Claire Barclay: Causing Chaos, St Andrews: Fife Contemporary Art & Craft, 2010.
  • ‘Introduction’ (with Sophie Raikes), Undone: Making and Unmaking in Contemporary Art, Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, 2010.
  • ‘Anton Henning: ‘Blumenstilleben No, 286 (2005)’, Sculpture in Painting, Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, 2010.
  • Concrete and Poetry: drawings for an art museum by Lina Bo Bardi, Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, 2009.
  • ‘Introduction’ (with Claire Sawyer), Art in Public Places: The archive of the Public Art Development Trust, Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, 2009.
  • ‘The Comfort of Strangers’, Angela Detanico and Rafael Lain: Inversed Times, Paris: Musée Zadkine, 2007.
  • ‘Legacies of the Laocoon’, Towards a New Laocoon: Richard Deacon, Tony Cragg and Eduardo Paolozzi, Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, 2007
  • ‘Introduction’, Espaço Aberto / Espaço Fechado: Sites for sculpture in modern Brazil, Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, 2006.
  • ‘Catalogue of exhibits’(with Katherine Hunt), Depth of Field: the place of the relief in the time of Donatello, London: Victoria and Albert Museum; Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, 2005.
  • My Personal Museum: ‘Ego Geometria Sum’ from the Helen Chadwick Archive (with Victoria Worsley), Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, 2004.
  • ‘John Logie Baird and Stooky Bill: Ventriloquism in Early Television’, With Hidden Noise: Sculpture, Video and Ventriloquism, Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, 2004
  • ‘The Sculpted Word’; ‘Unidentified Museum Objects’; ‘Changing Face’; ‘A Kind of Magic’, Object Cultures: The Nine Collections of The British Museum (with James Putnam), Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, 2003.
  • ‘Contemporary Sculpture’, Second Skin: Historical Life Casting and Contemporary Sculpture, Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, 2001.
  • ‘Introduction to the Exhibition’, Hounds in Leash: The Dog in 18th- & 19th-Century Sculpture, Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, 2000.

Museum Journal reviews

  • ‘Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery’, 2019
  • ‘Caro in Yorkshire’, 2015
  • ‘Ice Age: arrival of the modern mind’, 2013
  • ‘The Hepworth Wakefield’, 2011
  • ‘Henry Moore at Tate Britain’, 2010
  • ‘The Medieval and Renaissance Galleries at the V&A’, 2009

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