Galleries - September 2016

When Wilhelmina (Willie) Barns- Graham died in 2004 we said farewell to an artist whose long career had become intrinsically linked to St Ives and the classic mid-century modernism with which it has become synonymous. Born in Scotland in 1912, Barns-Graham was determined, even as a child, to be an artist. Parental opposition was thwarted with the help of an indulgent aunt and she enrolled at Edinburgh College of Art. It was a heady time to be a student there with influential tutors such as William Gillies, S J Peploe, and for a short but significant period, William MacTaggart from whom she absorbed both a delight in drawing and a particular sensitivity to the use of colour. The timing of her arrival in St Ives in 1940 was similarly opportune. The established arts community was growing, reinforced by refugees from the war and by the influence of such key modernists as Gabo, Nicholson and Hepworth. She swiftly became part of the coterie and joined both the Newlyn and St Ives Societies of Artists before becoming a founder member of The Crypt Group, a break away radical offshoot that led to the formation of The Penwith Society of Artists. She never lost her links, both physical and emotional, with Scotland however, and when her aunt left her a house in St Andrews she divided her working practice between there and St Ives. Three exhibitions this month celebrate the work of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. In St Ives the Belgrave Gallery is showing a selection of paintings and prints that are pertinent to her time there. Always a consummate draughtswoman who regarded drawing as “a discipline of the mind”, and returned to it throughout her life, her work never ceased to evolve using colour and form in the abstract idiom that was her own. The work at Belgrave Gallery traces that evolution in St Ives. At the publicly funded Penlee House Gallery in Penzance, ‘Wilhelmina Barns-Graham: A Scottish Artist in St Ives’ views her career through a different lens, by looking more closely at her training in Edinburgh and the continuing inspiration she found in Scotland. Meanwhile in London the Barns-Graham ‘moment’ continues with the Leyden Gallery’s exploration of her astonishing late flowering as a printmaker; this first took off in 1991 when, aged almost 80, she started making screen prints with the renowned Kip Gresham at Curwen Studio, having only ever made the most occasional of pieces before. Then in 1998, the Graal Press introduced her to the joys of their newly developed water based ink screen print technique. The comparative ease and freedom it now provided her with, allowing individual brush strokes to be captured directly on the acetate, suited her boldly expressive painting style admirably, and a stream of prints of extraordinary exuberance and formal daring followed. The Leyden Gallery is showing some six prints from 1999-2001 which speak for themselves in this respect. By also showing them alongside a fine early abstract painting from 1973-76, it highlights the huge artistic progression Barns-Graham continued to make right into her 90s. From her early obscurity in the male-dominated art worlds of Scotland and St Ives, this was quite some journey. Pip Palmer & Nicholas Usherwood from top: ‘ Vision in Time’ 2000, Leyden Gallery ‘Black Rocks’ 1952, Belgrave St Ives ‘The Blue Studio’ 1947-8, Penlee House Gallery 10 GALLERIES SEPTEMBER 2016 Wilhelmina Barns-Graham