Abstract, Issue 4
Welcome to Abstract the quarterly WBG Trust newsletter. This winter is jam packed with exciting projects and exhibitions across the country. See below for the full story.
Willie in Yorkshire 2018-19
For the Winter season the Trust is taking a multi-focused approach encompassing both current programme activity in Yorkshire and a look back to Barns-Graham’s brief, but significant time spent in Leeds around 1956-57. During that year she taught at Leeds College of Art while Harry Thubron was developing a new form of art education known as the ‘Basic Course, and exhibited an important body of new work at Wakefield Art Gallery. Further articles below look at Willie’s time spent in Yorkshire, the major exhibition at the Graves Gallery, Sheffield and a show of related works at 108 Fine Art, Harrogate.
Alongside exhibitions, another important element of the Trust’s focus on Yorkshire has been to direct the Trust’s ongoing gifting programme towards both institutions within the region and works made by Willie in connection with her time spent there. The first step in this initiative was a gift to Tate a major work from the 1950s, delivered earlier this year. At 122 x 198cm White, Black and Yellow (Composition February), 1957 (BGT 6455) is a particularly large painting within Willie’s oeuvre which encompasses her interest in both the ‘Golden Section’ theory of picture composition and reference to snowy Yorkshire dales (more literally depicted in Snow at Wharfedale II from same year, reproduced below).
Three Yorkshire art galleries have also benefited from recent significant donations to their collections. The Hepworth Wakefield received Green Skull Form I, 1951 (BGT 578) and Glacier, 1951–77 (BGT 529) while Progression 1965 (BGT 473) is to be donated to Leeds Art Gallery. Maintaining the ‘Willie in Yorkshire’ theme, the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery at Leeds University will be given Untitled, c.1957 (BGT 358), another painting closely associated with her time in Leeds, and which though smaller in scale, is related to the painting given to Tate.
Wilhelmina Barns-Graham: Sea, Rock, Earth and IceSUBTITLE2==Graves Gallery, Sheffield (Saturday 8 December 2018 – Saturday 16 March 2019)
Originally curated by Lara Wardle, Director of the Jerwood Collection, for the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham: Sea, Rock, Earth and Ice opens in Sheffield this December in an expanded version developed by Liz Waring, Curator of Visual Art, Museums Sheffield.
Sea, Rock, Earth and Ice celebrates Barns-Graham’s remarkable gift for capturing the spirit of specific landscapes. Bringing together paintings and works on paper spanning four decades, the works in the exhibition share an inherent understanding of the natural world and showcase her extraordinary ability to evoke a landscape in gradual ﬂux, from eroding coastlines and volcanic vistas to the unseen slow creep of a glacier.
The paintings and drawings featured in the exhibition each bear testament to Barns-Graham’s passion for, and inherent understanding of, the natural world and explore her response to the diverse landscapes she encountered, primarily focusing on depictions of four different geographical areas: the Cornish coast; Lanzarote’s volcanic rock formations; clay formations on Italian hills; and the Grindelwald Glacier in Switzerland.
Writing about her fascination with the topography of places, Barns-Graham said, “Being in the presence of the power and awe of nature, be it to study the effect of the sun on glaciers in Switzerland, the rain on clay formations in Tuscany, the lava forms and the disturbances in the volcanic areas of Lanzarote … all wonders emphasising the importance of being at one with nature. This is a contemplation of sensing out, feeling and understanding particular rhythms, not just on the surface but underground as in Cornwall”.
The Drawings of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham
Drawing was central to Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s art and was a key part of her art school training. Two new exhibitions of drawings open in the new year. First is a display of twelve works made between 1940 and 1958 that lie at the heart of the Scottish Gallery’s exhibition about the Edinburgh Circle and those who attended Edinburgh College of Art, from which she had graduated in 1937. The second is a solo exhibition at 108 Fine Art in Harrogate.
Barns-Graham stated in a conversation about drawing in 1992 “I have always been interested in drawing – it is a discipline of the mind. I seek to discover abstract shapes, accepting the subject’s demands often touching different moods……..” The art writer Mel Gooding, in an introduction of an exhibition dedicated to the subject, refers to her drawings as ‘….one of the most brilliantly distinctive bodies of graphic work in twentieth century British art…’ and continues ‘…she proved herself a draughtsman of visionary gift, capable of tracing, in precise linearity and expressive tone and colour, the dynamism and rhythm of things.”
Wherever Willie travelled she had sketchbooks and materials at hand, resulting in specific collections of drawings from her sojourns beyond Cornwall to the Grindelwald Glacier, Tuscany, Sicily, the Balearics, Orkney and Lanzarote. Willie’s Cornish and 1950s Italian drawings are included in both exhibitions. Her work from Lanzarote, and a rare glacier offset drawing (1951) extend the 108 Fine Art show alongside a group of her renowned energy drawings with their tightly knit lines. All reflect her enquiring mind and her passion for the natural world and are the outcome of long years of observation. She grasped not only surface appearances but explored landscape’s underlying structure, tapping into the energies and elemental forces that created it.
The Edinburgh School and Wider Circle opens at Scottish Gallery, 16 Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ on 5 January and runs until 26th January 2019. www.scottish-gallery.co.uk
Earth, Ice, Rock and Sea – the art of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham runs at 108 Fine Art, 16 Coldbath Road, Harrogate HG1 2RY from 2-23 February. www.108fineart.com
Willie in Yorkshire – Now and then
While the current exhibition Wilhelmina Barns-Graham: Sea, Rock, Earth and Ice at the Graves Gallery in Sheffield is centred on Willie’s celebrated exploration of angular natural elements, less is known of the particular role the Yorkshire landscape played in the artist’s development towards abstraction in the second half of the 1950s.
Shown in Wakefield City Art Gallery’s 1957 Modern Art in Yorkshire show, Snow at Wharfedale II, 1957 epitomises this profound fascination with strongly defined forms, inspired by the wintry landscape of Yorkshire‘s high dales. Similarly to her studies of the Grindelwald Glacier, which she had visited during her visit to Switzerland in 1949, Willie again uses the landscape as a focus for abstraction, here using heavy, expressive lines and contrasting surfaces to convey the rugged geometry of the fields, valleys and hills.
This piece was produced during Willie’s academic tenure at the Leeds College of Art between 1956-57, a period which had catapulted the city’s flourishing art scene into the cultural map of Britain. While on staff at the school, Willie engaged in local artistic circles, participating on several leading exhibitions in Yorkshire, including shows at the Bradford City Art Gallery’s Spring exhibitions (1955, 1956) and the Leeds City Art Gallery Yorkshire Artists’ Exhibition (1957), as well as the Wakefield exhibition which included 14 paintings and 5 drawings.
Where to see Willie
Wilhelmina Barns-Graham: Sea, Rock, Earth and Ice opens at the Graves Gallery, Sheffield on 8th December. This exhibition showcases Barns-Graham’s lifelong fascination with ice and rock forms in the landscape including the stunning Glacier Painting, Green and Brown 1951 from the Sheffield Museums Collection. This runs until 16th March 2019.
In St Ives the current display at the Penwith Gallery is ‘Cornish Coasts’ featuring a range of paintings and drawings reflecting Willie’s love of the coastline that she lived on for most of her life and was inspired by. Tate St Ives’ wonderful ongoing Modern Art and St Ives display also includes three important works by Willie, including Rock Theme, St Just, 1953, recently donated to the Tate Collection by the Trust.
At The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge there is still time to catch the fantastic group show organised by Tate St Ives Virginia Woolf – an Exhibition Inspired by Her Writings features four works by Willie, two lent by the Trust; Cliff 1952 and Blue Stone El Golfo, 1989. This is on until Sunday 9th December 2018.
At The Watermill, Aberfeldy until 27 January 2019 is Wilhelmina Barns-Graham: Rhythms in Colour. Late Paintings and Prints.
At the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness, Orkney, their permanent collection display features three Barns-Graham works including a relief depicting rock formations at Warbeth.
In Callendar House, Falkirk you can see Snow (Scene) St Ives 1947 as part of the exhibition ‘Drawn from the Past – The Museum Mind of Tessa Asquith-Lamb’ until 13 January 2019.
Installed at the Scottish Parliament are five spectacular, colourful late works on display outside the committee rooms which are publicly accessible.
In London the Tate’s renowned Glacier Crystal, Grindelwald, 1950 is on display at Tate Britain and Studio Interior (Red Stool, Studio) will feature in 50/50: Fifty Women Artists 1900-1950 at the Mercers Hall (27/11 – 22/3/19). Also in London at Charing Cross Hospital from 14 November is a specially curated selection of Willie’s line drawings in ‘Linear Meditations’ which will then travel to St Mary’s Hospital and Hammersmith Hospital in 2019.
Re Snow in Wharfdale II cited above, this painting is now on view at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester for the next few months.
2019 looks to be another busy year, with two new exhibitions opening in the new year. The first, at The Scottish Gallery opening on January 5th is The Edinburgh School & Wider Circle (until 26 January 2019), closely followed by Earth, Ice, Rock and Sea – the art of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (2 Feb – 23 Feb 2019) at 108 Fine Art in Harrogate. We also have a Barns-Graham work Fireworks (1972) going into A Good Night: Nocturnes for Night Owls at the Falmouth Art Gallery, (12 Jan 2019 – 30 Mar 2019) inspired by a night time display! In Sussex the mesmerising Warm Up – Cool Down will feature in IN Colour: Sickert to Riley at The Wolfson Gallery, Charleston (6 March – 1 September 2019).