It was not until 2001, in the final decade of her life, that Wilhelmina Barns-Graham was at last to receive the accolade of a major monograph (published by Lund Humphries and written by Lynne Green), which restores her to her central place in the history of modern art in Britain. Barns-Graham is in major collections of art including the Tate, however 2016 has seen her work receive greater and much deserved attention. Not only was a solo exhibition of her work held in May by the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust at the Scottish Gallery but her work was integral to the Modern Scottish Women Painters and Sculptors exhibition held at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art November 2015- June 2016. Leyden Gallery is delighted to contribute to the recent coverage of Barns-Graham in its current exhibition of her work.
Despite Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s dual status as both a St Ives and Scottish artist she has largely been written out of the history of the St Ives group. The masculinist, avant-garde perspective of St Ives has prevailed in recent decades of scholarship and like several other women artists of the group, such as Margaret Mellis and Miriam Gabo, her artistic contribution has lacked recognition. She was one of the Crypt group of young moderns and a founding member the Penwith Society of Arts, yet she was excluded from the 1985 Tate gallery exhibition catalogue, St Ives 1939-64: Twenty-five years of Painting, Sculpture and Pottery. Contrary to such perceptions, Lynne Green’s recent text, Wilhemina Barns-Graham: A Studio Life reveals her wider contribution to twentieth century art by writing her into the story of the St Ives group.
In an effort to counter the double jeopardy of sexism and ageism, Leyden gallery is proud to show a collection of prints from between 1999- 2001 that represent the vivacity of Barns-Graham’s creative output during her later years. We are also delighted to have a large scale oil painting called Movement Across Brown executed by Barns-Graham between 1973-6 on display. The prints and the painting are shown alongside one another in order to draw attention to the complex visual dialogue taking place between her earlier and later work. While her painting is delicately executed and subtle in colour, in her prints we see Barns-Graham pushing her enthusiasm for bold abstraction even further; becoming comparably more vibrant and vivacious towards the end of her life. Explaining the development of her artistic journey to the critic John McEwen in 2001, Barns-Graham revealed:
Now I am at the stage of urgency. My theme is celebration of life, joy, the importance of
colour, form, space and texture. Brushstrokes that can be happy, risky, thin, fat, fluid and textured. Having a positive mind and constantly being aware and hopefully being allowed to live longer to increase this celebration.
Although Barns-Graham had previously made the occasional etching and linocut, it was screen prints made with Kip Gresham (Curwen Studio) in 1991 that can be seen as the true start of her life as a printmaker. In 1998, a significant turning point came with her introduction to Carol Robertson and Robert Adam of Graal Press. On technique, Graal were able to offer her a more expansive range of possibilities due to their ground-breaking development of water based screen printing inks. With Barns-Graham’s individual brush marks captured on acetate, they made prints that are truly an embodiment of the artist’s painting style. The first series made with Graal was Time. This was so successful that she went on to collaborate with them on the editioning of major sets of images - Millennium, Sunghrie, Earth - concluding with the White Circle, Wind Dance and Water Dance (Porthmeor) series of 2002/3. In this current exhibition we have aimed to give a sense of the scope of Barns-Graham’s artistic development. By including an early painting among her series of later prints, Leyden Gallery engages with significant issues surrounding the question of age, gender and artistic capacity. Barns-Graham’s creative production was ever-evolving, enhanced through the medium of screen print, and as such the dynamism of her work was arguably greater in the later years of her life.