I’ve written several glowing reports on the Hepworth in my personal blog but now I want to wax lyrical here in what I’m thinking will be one of Cloughies away games (this blog started life confining itself to the A52 corridor between Nottingham & Derby but hell those down South just think its all ‘oop North’ anyway). On this occasion I’d no expectations ahead of the visit as my pal had suggested it and I’d not looked it up.
It turned out to be a richly rewarding visit to a venue that has provided us with many excellent shows since our first when it opened back in 2011. Indeed as a roughly three times a year visitor I reckon there’s always fresh material to mull over in a building devoted to a single figure, albeit highly distinguished, where one might have thought displays would be rather static. This time the clever curatorial pairing pitted the female English modernist Gertrude Hermes against the male Italian born post modernism of Enrico David. As I often tell students ‘compare and contrast’…and here the connections are many, various and highly instructive, and, wrapped together with several other displays, deeply satisfying.
David is an artist I first encountered through his paintings but here the focus is appropriately more on 3D. Think English 50’s figuration meeting Arte Povera…so a wall figure piece in cardboard reminds me of something that might have been commissioned from Lynn Chadwick for a provincial theatre in the Midlands. He has a particular and peculiar way with the human figure, a lugubrious and serial approach that sees them shoe horned into strange geometries and put through odd contortions. Other commentators have described the work as ‘odd’ and that’s fair enough but I also saw a poetry that is rather beautiful. The use of materials is quite fascinating…I was especially taken with something I’ve not come across before now – Jesmonite – that seems (at least in his hands) to be just about anything you want it to be…ebony, ivory, polished limestones etc.
He occupies the large temporary exhibition gallery with aplomb…a scattering of small lead spheres that are dotted around the space brings the various pieces together so that a satisfying whole is created from what might otherwise appear as disparate pieces. In a second room there are some lovely drawings with a spare, delicate touch as well as more mystifying though genuinely considered pieces. This is a show I can’t recommend highly enough.
Gertrude Hermes, I freely confess, wasn’t known to me at all until this trip out. Her exhibition was a revelation – a tour de force – as regards the art of woodcut but also an astonishing array of sculpture and print and drawing. She ranged freely across the subject matter of the figure and of nature in a manner that is of course in part reminiscent of the English Romantics but also betokens a tougher, more structurally rigorous, sensitivity and, occasionally, a peculiarity that to me she shares with Enrico David. One of my favourites in the show is the small terracotta Baby 11, that could be slotted into his smaller room here, assuming of course that it was fashioned from Jesmonite! Hermes’ astonishing fecundity as an artist and her amazing technical virtuosity is a delight and constitutes reason two to get up to Wakefield. Given the other current displays and the fine café/restaurant (that I’ve written about before) there are a dozen or more reasons that should make the trip worthwhile.