DIGREVIEW - Moore, Hepworth, Nicholson
Sally Gray reviews the 'nest of gentle artists' that have become giants of modern art - Moore, Hepworth, Nicholson at the Graves, Sheffield.
read full article...
Moore, Hepworth, Nicholson
Yorkshire is often referred to as the cradle of modern sculpture as its undulating dales have proved a fertile breeding ground for a number of artistic giants including Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. However this exhibition, in which Moore and Hepworth are joined by Hepworth’s sometime lover and eventual husband Ben Nicholson, explores the inspiration provided by quite another county as it charts two seaside holidays taken by the group in Happisburgh, Norfolk in the early 1930s.
The exhibition’s coy subtitle ‘A Nest of Gentle Artists’ (a quote taken from the art historian Herbert Read) coupled with the tastefully muted décor of the gallery conjures up a somewhat demure atmosphere rather at odds with some of the work. In the first room we see powerful eroticism in Moore’s depiction of a topless bather and in Seated Nude by John Skeaping, - Hepworth’s then husband, soon to be ex-husband. In Nicholson’s work we see the compulsion of an adulterer as the figure of his lover Hepworth becomes increasingly apparent in his paintings, her profile often scored into the oils with a feverish hand. Hepworth and Moore’s sculptural work is equally sensuous, representing reclining figures reminiscent of sunbathers and suckling infants at their mother’s breast. These voluptuous figures in smooth travertine marble and veined wood are crying out to be touched but, given the Perspex cases which protect them, the child-friendly tactile display of artists materials function as a useful proxy.
As well as these fleshy delights the exhibition also showcases the three artists’ move away from the figurative towards the abstract. This is seen most distinctly in Hepworth and Nicholson’s work, she exploring how the space between forms exudes a sculptural energy all of its own, and he embracing the right angles of the Cubist movement to produce bright white geometric relief works. In this showcase of artists who are now regarded as very much ‘the establishment’ these once daring digressions lose some of their potency. However, although this exhibition errs on the side of conservativism it gives a fine account of the creative energies of this artistic group at a particular time and place. The pebbles they gathered on a Norfolk beach have since been translated in artistic forms which can now be enjoyed in galleries all over the country.