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Jan Patience: Barbara Hepworth was a genius sculptor shaping art and life

© Neil HannaLeila Riszko admires Spring sculpture by Barbara Hepworth at National Gallery of Modern Art
Leila Riszko admires Spring sculpture by Barbara Hepworth at National Gallery of Modern Art

Last summer, my husband and I visited Orkney. It was our first holiday in two decades without a child in tow; something which, when our two children were younger, I dreamed about. I know many mothers of small children will recognise this craving for peace – and space to think.

Wandering on my own around Pier Arts Centre, a beautiful gallery overlooking Stromness harbour, I came across a small alabaster sculpture, made in 1932 by Yorkshire-born Barbara Hepworth called Two Heads.

Two smooth carved heads nestle face-to-face; a mother and a child. Separate, yet apart. Their features barely sketched in. Beside the sculpture, a drawing shows the more recognisable head of a mother with arms wrapped around her child.

The stab of recognition and loss I felt was palpable. I made a promise to myself to see more of her work.

Barbara Hepworth (Pic: Keystone Pictures USA/Shutterstock)

Thankfully, this wish has been granted with the recent opening of Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s Modern Two building in Edinburgh. It is a stunner of a show.

Curated by Eleanor Clayton, who has written a new book about Hepworth, it features more than 130 artworks; including some of her best known sculptures, as well as drawings and original prints.

Although the art world Hepworth inhabited was dominated by men, including her second husband Ben Nicholson, the mother of four held her own with a formidable work ethic and a commitment to creating a “universal language” through her art.

From modern abstract carvings which catapulted her on to the art scene in the 1930s to beautifully tactile string sculptures made in the ’40s and ’50s, and large-scale bronze sculptures crafted later in her career, there is much to love.

Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life runs until October 2


Known for her tender, scraped-back portraits of authors such as Colm Toibin and Alasdair Gray, Edinburgh-based artist Joyce Gunn Cairns has a vivid visual memory which provides her with endless inspiration for her paintings. Her work captures a feeling as well as a moment in time.

As a new exhibition, which opens today at The Smithy Gallery in Blanefield, Stirlingshire, reveals, Gunn Cairns’ delicate paintings of animals and people are caught in a netherworld, somewhere between imagination and life.