Modern Conversations

What does it mean to be modern?

a person stands to look at a display in Tate St Ives

Modern Conversations display, Tate St Ives 2021 © Kirstin Prisk

Dame Barbara Hepworth, Curved Form (Trevalgan)  1956

Hepworth settled in St Ives during the Second World War. Inspired by the local landscape, she began to sculpt her responses to the natural forms around her. Trevalgan is the name of a hill near her home. There, she wrote, ‘the cliffs divide as they touch the sea facing west. At this point, facing the setting sun across the Atlantic, where sky and sea blend with hills and rocks, the forms seem to enfold the watcher and lift him towards the sky.’ The sculpture is not a literal representation of the divided cliffs, but a personal expression of Hepworth’s physical and spiritual encounter with nature.

Gallery label, May 2007

highlights in Modern Conversations

Christopher Wood, Boat in Harbour, Brittany  1929

Though in Brittany, this scene is similar to many works painted by Wood in Cornwall. Towards the end of his short life, Wood spent periods working in both places in pursuit of a ‘naïve’ style of painting. In 1928 he visited Cornwall with his friends Ben and Winifred Nicholson. In St Ives the two men came across Alfred Wallis, whose ‘primitive’, child-like paintings made a deep impression on their subsequent work. For them, adopting Wallis’s instinctive style allowed them to reject the artificiality of established painting for a more authentic mode of expression.

Gallery label, July 2007

highlights in Modern Conversations

Patrick Heron, Harbour Window with Two Figures : St Ives : July 1950  1950

highlights in Modern Conversations

Rasheed Araeen, Lovers  1968

Araeen trained as a civil engineer, and his sculptures are constructed using geometric forms. Lovers combines two structures, each of which consists of a series of triangles that have been rotated and orientated in different ways. The work can be shown in two different configurations: either with the two parts next to each other, or on top of each other. This introduction of alternative possibilities challenges the idea of the artwork as a fixed object conceived by a single individual.

Gallery label, October 2016

highlights in Modern Conversations

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, White, Black and Yellow (Composition February)  1957

highlights in Modern Conversations

Nalini Malani, Untitled I  1970/2017

highlights in Modern Conversations

Wangechi Mutu, You were always on my mind  2007

Mutu’s elaborate figurative paintings incorporate collaged materials from a variety of sources including medical journals, ethnographic photo-essays, fashion, wildlife and pornographic magazines. In this double profile, the larger, lower, head is mainly in earth tones, and includes collaged images of a begging figure and a jewelled hand. The smaller head is lushly coloured and partly built-up in layers of a moss-like plant substance. The entire construction suggests a conflation between natural and artificial constructions of beauty and plenty.

Gallery label, September 2008

highlights in Modern Conversations

Francis Bacon, Seated Figure  1961

Bacon’s portraits are explorations of the human condition as much as they are character studies, particularly in works such as Seated Figure, in which the identity of the sitter is not disclosed. They also represent a complex exploration of pictorial space: the figure is simultaneously posed among some elegant items of furniture and confined within a box-like frame. This device, which was one of Bacon’s trademarks, underlines the sense of isolation as well as generating a claustrophobic psychological intensity.

Gallery label, July 2012

highlights in Modern Conversations

Patrick Heron, Green and Purple Painting with Blue Disc : May 1960  1960

In this work, an irregular blue disc hovers in front of a field of green and purple, seeming to expand and contract within the flat picture plane. Even when he eliminated recognisable subject matter, Heron’s abstractions stemmed from his observations of the visual world. He denied that he consciously painted ‘landscapes’, but affirmed: ‘the enormously powerful rhythmic energies of the granite outcrops beneath my feet transmit certain rhythms straight up through the soles of my shoes every minute of the day.’

Gallery label, May 2007

highlights in Modern Conversations

Joan Miró, Women and Bird in the Moonlight  1949

This work belongs to a series of paintings that Miró made in 1949–50 in Majorca.
Miró’s use of simple shapes and bright colours constitutes a highly personal visual language, often charged with symbolic meaning. In this case, the women and bird of the title are easily identifiable under the moon and stars. This imagery suggests a harmonious and elemental relationship between man and nature, which the artist felt was threatened by modern civilisation.

Gallery label, August 2013

highlights in Modern Conversations

Ithell Colquhoun, Attributes of the Moon  1947

highlights in Modern Conversations

Victor Pasmore, Abstract in White, Black, Indian and Lilac  1957

Pasmore believed that art derived from nature, and specifically from its underlying processes and structures rather than its surface appearance. In his reliefs Pasmore brought ideas of growth and abstract harmony into three dimensions. He rejected tilted elements because they were not organic developments of the rectangles in the way that horizontals and verticals are. He added: Geometry, though subject to the quoi of personal judgment, is a guide to the organic process.

Gallery label, August 2004

highlights in Modern Conversations

Sandra Blow, Vivace  1988

highlights in Modern Conversations


T00353: Curved Form (Trevalgan)
Dame Barbara Hepworth Curved Form (Trevalgan) 1956
T00489: Boat in Harbour, Brittany
Christopher Wood Boat in Harbour, Brittany 1929
T03106: Harbour Window with Two Figures : St Ives : July 1950
Patrick Heron Harbour Window with Two Figures : St Ives : July 1950 1950
T13389: Lovers
Rasheed Araeen Lovers 1968

You've viewed 4/13 highlights

You've viewed 13/13 highlights