Wilhelmina Barns-Graham actively worked as an artist from her time at Edinburgh College of Art in the 1930s through to her death in 2004. Whilst her principal outputs were painting and drawing, she became heavily involved with printmaking during her later years through her collaborations with Graal Press.
The variety of imagery present in Barns-Graham’s paintings is striking. She appears to have constantly altered her style; the work has been representational, hard edge abstract, expressionist. This variability has on occasion led to her being accused of being contrary.
Today the links between images and themes are much clearer to see and it is evident that she remained true to her artistic principles throughout her life. The key elements that flow through the apparently different styles of imagery are form, movement and colour. The expansive number of ways in which these can be described illustrate her extraordinary creativity and the thoroughness of her investigations of the world around her.
In 2012 the Public Catalogue Foundation photographed 406 paintings for inclusion in the BBC Your Paintings website which can be accessed here.
Drawings & Studies
“I have sessions of drawing and consider it important to make studies, to develop one’s awareness of to inner perception....I attempt to seek out sculptural, architectural and linear qualities.....always to study the function of forms and formations, drawing with simplicity. I get at the real essence of things which can be as miraculous as anything devised by the imagination.... ”. ¹ Nonetheless, the drawings were not studies for particular paintings. “I seldom work from my drawings. The discipline used releases me in my paintings, to work more freely, expand with ideas and imagination involving joy in colour, texture and harmony, I start creating (sic)”.
¹ W. Barns-Graham, Some Thoughts on Drawing, from exhibition catalogue ‘W.Barns-Graham Drawings’, Crawford Arts Centre, St. Andrews, 1992, p.9
For Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, making prints was a liberating experience. From 1991 she produced an astonishing array, toying with colours and forms to create series of images. The possibility of variations in turn stimulated new ideas.
The first series was the Time Series portfolio. Other major sets included the Millennium Series and Earth Series, concluding with the Wind Dance Series and Water Dance Series completed before she died in early 2004.
Later prints were mostly created in collaboration with Carol Robertson and Robert Adam of Graal Press. They offered the artist a range of possibilities through the use of water based inks. This allowed Barns-Graham’s brush marks to be captured on acetate, making prints that are a true embodiment of the artist’s painting style.