There ain’t nothing like this Dame



To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about modern sculpture.  It nearly falls into that borderline category of ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ alongside  Dada, ‘Emin-ent’ brit-art,  and just about anything that requires ‘installation’.  Is it art, or is it philosophical discussion?  (or is some cases, sixth form debate).  If it leaves me scratching my head, I’m not particularly happy; I’m left with the uneasy feeling that either I do not have the intellectual wherewithall  to comprehend, or that there is in fact little substance; neither of which is good.

But there are some exceptions.  Antony Gormley perhaps is one.  And the other most definitely is Dame Barbara Hepworth.  Oddly enough it was my young daughter, no more than five or six years old at the time who instantly fell in love with Barbara’s work, and so prompted my repeated visits to her remarkable walled home and studio in  St Ives, and now the Barbara Hepworth museum and sculpture garden.


Anyone visiting the place surely must agree that it is the dream studio, especially in St Ives where gardens and space are so limited.  Barbara herself acknowledged that she had passed by the place for ten years without realising what lay hidden behind the high stone wall.  And today, there are her tools, still, in a white-washed work-place; her overalls still hanging on the peg.  And in the garden a poignant and ghostly white summer house, more of a shed really, with just a single bed, where she often slept.  Thirty-six years ago today she died here in a fire.

I spent too much time today trying to source a photograph by Lord Snowdon of Barbara emerging from St Ives Bay like a sea-witch from the rocks and seaweed.  I think it sums her up; how she made the town her own, despite perhaps some good-natured ribbing from the locals.  With hindsight, she fits in perfectly.   And tomorrow, a new Hepworth Gallery opens in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, where Barbara was born.  You can find more information at  or via the wonderful Tate St Ives

As I’ve said, I’m on unsure ground; but what I love about Barbara is that she seemed to make a real effort to connect with the Cornish environment; the shapes, the tides, the stone. And I also admire her for holding her own and more amidst the flourishing and largely male-dominated St. Ives ‘colony’ of artists, which included herself and second husband Ben Nicholson (an informal chat with one of her former assistants sadly revealed an on-going disparagement).  And all whilst bringing up triplets.

Here’s to you Barbara.


All photographs taken by C Devine at the Barbara Hepworth museum and sculpture garden, St Ives, Cornwall


Glencoe Pines



Glencoe Pines, acrylic on canvas

I cannot claim to be a prolific artist, largely due to my other activities and interests, and notwithstanding the slavish devotion to my children.  I have never exhibited, and despite my extreme pauperism tend to become attached to my paintings, guarding them jealousy like precious babies.  So far, so unprofessional.  Nevertheless, on occasion works have been wrenched from my grasp via word of mouth or commission.  ‘Glencoe Pines’ the painting shown here, was one such, and I thought I may as well start with it since I have been giving some thought to the nature of commissions following an article by the lovely coastal artist Melanie McDonald, which you can read here

I was interested in Melanie’s wonderfully embracing attitude to the process of collaboration between client and artist, for it is a thing which, if I’m honest, is anathema to me.  This probably says more about our relative characters than I might prefer to dwell on, but the truth is, for me, commissions are frustrating affairs.  Art is subjective; it evolves from the distinct idiosyncrasies of the artist, which, put simply, is the reason one scene painted by two separate artists at the same time will never look the same, or indeed be admired by any two others equally.  The subject has to ‘pass through’ the perpetrator; from observation to thought process, through emotional sinews and personality to interpretation.

And then someone asks you to paint a picture of their dog.  Probably with a red velveteen backdrop and a dewy look in its eye.  Or wants you to interpret an improbable dream or vision they have had, and by ‘interpret’ I mean relay exactly what they see in their mind’s eye.  Which of course you can never do, for you are not in their mind’s eye, you are in your own. Call me stubborn but give me the customer who points admiringly to a seascape and says ‘Do me one of those, please.’

I say all this because ‘Glencoe Pines’, although not originating from an idea of my own, was one that, unusually, I ended up reasonably satisfied with.  And here’s why.

The customer was a sports fanatic; a keen runner who also happened to own some property in Scotland, and she loved to go running through these woods in spring, so there were some quite specific requirements.  But all she presented me to go on were some black and white scans of photos taken in winter.  And lovely as she was, my hackles started to rise.   Yet I managed to be a little inspired. I have been a long-time admirer of Gustav Klimt’s landscape paintings (as opposed to the more popular, decorative portraits) and had been meaning to explore similar techniques.  So I was thinking: no horizon and pine trees forming abstract pattern.


Birch wood, by Gustav Klimt, oil on canvas 1903

But wait, I said there were requirements.  Specific ones.  My customer loved to see the spring primroses and rhododendrons on her runs, and these were to be reproduced in all their exacting glory.  My Klimtian aspirations (there is clearly no comparison) were slowly dissolved as attempts at suggestion and impression were admired, but could I make it a bit more…detailed.  And Brighter.  Reader, you have no idea how many times I had to change the colour of those rhododendrons…


 Detail from ‘Glencoe Pines’

In the end I found a way, of sorts.  I am a huge fan, from childhood, of the Ladybird ‘Well Loved Tales’ series of books with illustrations by Eric Winter, and others.  There is a magical quality to these renditions of classic stories, all portrayed in a vivid and glamorous sheen of bright colour.  Suddenly my pine wood became a nostalgic fairy-tale setting of enchantment…  Or at least, I found a way to work with it; to accept the ideas of another mind in a way that I could get along with.  I don’t think it completely sits well; the balance is wrong for a start. But the customer got her primroses and was happy.  And me, well I can imagine my handsome Prince come riding by at any moment…


Illustration for Sleeping Beauty by Eric Winter published @ 1965