Galleries magazine - page 10

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
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
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
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:
Time’ 2000, Leyden Gallery
‘Black Rocks’ 1952, Belgrave St Ives
‘The Blue Studio’ 1947-8, Penlee House Gallery
Wilhelmina Barns-Graham
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