Wilhelmina Barns-Graham: Rhythms of Colour

Two outline shapes, red circle to left, green oval to right, hover over an enclosed space with heavy dark outline, surrounded by purple background.

Two Circles on Purple
1992
lithograph, edition of 70
60 x 75.2 cm

There are two opportunities to see Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s wonderful vibrant screenprints with exhibitions at the Watermill Gallery, Aberfeldy and at Gallagher & Turner, Newcastle opening this month. Prints, primarily the screenprints made in collaboration with Carol Robertson of Graal Press, comprise a significant element in Willie’s late work, all the more remarkable that the bulk of the prints were produced within the last five years of her life.

 

This is the third Wilhelmina Barns-Graham exhibition with the Watermill Gallery. On each occasion the selection of works has centred around a body of prints, supplemented with some late paintings, and small multi-linear drawings from the 1970s and 1980s that reflect very different kinds of rhythm she found within the fields and shores of Fife and Cornwall.

 

The earliest print in the exhibition is a lithograph from 1992, Two Circles on Purple, that she made with the highly regarded Stanley Jones, assisted by Serena Castle, of Curwen Studio. Willie had started working with the studio the previous year having been introduced to the printmaker Kip Gresham whose Chilford Hall Press had amalgamated with Curwen Studio in 1989. She was initially  concerned that the first prints she had made there were more like reproductions of her paintings than original prints; however, this was not the case with a set of inspired screenprints, November Series (1991; two of the approved set of five included in this show). The lithograph was a further step forward as an original print. Nonetheless, after moving to his own studio at Duxford, near Cambridge, in 1994 Kip Gresham invited Willie to work on a new print; they both agreed to work from an existing painting – Venetian Red (1995) was the result.

 

At this point Willie was not overly enthused with printmaking. She had been involved with prints since the early 1950s, albeit sporadically, but her rather minimal output over the subsequent decades does not suggest someone who is overwhelmingly taken with the process. This situation changed dramatically with her introduction in 1998 to Carol Robertson and Robert Adam who had established Graal Press, based just outside Edinburgh. Carol’s imaginative approach to creating prints came to thoroughly engage Willie’s attention. Presented with new ways of working Willie became inspired and, with Carol as creative collaborator, a new body of work was born. Willie’s focus on printmaking runs parallel to her painting, the two artforms feeding and nurturing each other. That Carol was operating on the front line of water-based inks technology, a medium that complemented Willie’s main work with acrylic paints, offered Willie the opportunity to make prints that truly extended her art.

 

Much has been written about the vivacity and joie de vivre of Willie’s late work, the intense colour and bold design that belie the work of an artist in her eighties. She was a tour de force, active daily in her studio, driven to work while she was able to, thinking that each day could be her last. The consequent outpouring of paintings and prints continues to astound all those who come across them either for the first time, or on repeat encounters. 

 

Watermill Gallery, Mill Street, Aberfeldy, Perthshire, PH15 2BG

 www.aberfeldywatermill.com

Exhibition catalogue available from the gallery. Call 01887 822896 or email info@aberfeldywatermill.com

Exhibition continues to 27 January 2019.

 

 

Two pairs of double arches, one black (left), one white (right), set against textured tan background with two pale translucent curtains in centre of image crossing the arches.
Zoom
November V
1991
screenprint, edition of 20
89.5 x 118.5 cm
Two pairs of double arches, one black (left), one white (right), set against textured tan background with two pale translucent curtains in centre of image crossing the arches.
Loosely dribbled white, shadowy red and black marks dance across the paper, set against a vibrant red background.
Zoom
Wind Dance I
2004
screenprint, edition of 70
56 x 56 cm
Loosely dribbled white, shadowy red and black marks dance across the paper, set against a vibrant red background.
Vertical Venetian red, black and white brushtrokes and paint splatters set against predominantly cream background.
Zoom
Venetian Red
1995
screenprint, edition of 70
45.2 x 33.8 cm (image)
74 x 57.5 cm (paper)
Vertical Venetian red, black and white brushtrokes and paint splatters set against predominantly cream background.
Green disk set behind blue bar, with yellow whirling lines in circular motion that suggest disk is spinning, offset against red background.
Zoom
Runabout Time
2006 (posthumously printed)
screenprint, edition of 25
56 x 76 cm
Green disk set behind blue bar, with yellow whirling lines in circular motion that suggest disk is spinning, offset against red background.
Zoom
White Circle Series I
2003
screenprint, edition of 70
56 x 56 cm
Bars of colour, including light blue, green, red, white, yellow and brown arranged across the image, in order from left to right, dancing across a background that is predominantly royal blue.
Zoom
Untitled
1997-2000
acrylic on paper
29.3 x 39 cm
BGT2370
Bars of colour, including light blue, green, red, white, yellow and brown arranged across the image, in order from left to right, dancing across a background that is predominantly royal blue.

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