Abstract, Issue 6

Welcome to Abstract the quarterly WBG Trust newsletter. Find out what we have been up to and read about upcoming projects and exhibitions. See below for the full story.

Timanfaya Mt. Fuego, 1989, Acrylic on paper, BGT1090

A Distant Isle – Wilhelmina Barns-Graham in Lanzarote

This exhibition at the Belgrave Gallery in St Ives marks the thirtieth anniversary of Wilhelmina (Willie) Barns-Graham’s first visit to Lanzarote in 1989. Invited by a friend, she landed on the island on 23rd February and stayed for three weeks.


Anyone who has been to Lanzarote appreciates what an extraordinary place it is. The island is dominated by evidence of substantial volcanic activity, the last eruptions being very recent in geological terms. Willie marvelled at the black rock formations and conic hills, and the strangeness of the lava fields. She was inspired by a world in which the rebirth of the land was a dominant feature. Much of the lava has barely eroded, the surfaces sharp and abrasive. It is not easy to walk amongst it which is why she often drew from the roadside. She made many lava drawings, of its variety of shapes, patterns and textures. Indeed, her fourth trip to Lanzarote (1992) was ‘confined to lava movement + mostly from one place’ where she saw ‘…excellent examples of molten lava, merging + spiral shapes’.

In La Geria, centrally located on the island, the smooth conical shape of the volcanic mounds are offset against the chaotic patterning of the lava. Most drawings were done with pencil though there is a group made with colour crayons and gouaches that reflect the ‘amazing strata bands of grey, red, darkish brown…’

The first visit was a huge success, leading to her making four return journeys, the last in 1993. The Lanzarote collection is a remarkable and significant body of work in Willie’s late career, the extent of which is still to be fully assessed. This exhibition sets out some of the island’s influences and encompasses the breadth of what she achieved.

Belgrave Gallery, 22 Fore Street,  St Ives, Cornwall TR26 1HE – 10 to 29 June 2019 www.belgravestives.co.uk

Qoutes are taken from Willie’s journals and notebooks.

'Reflection', kiln fired glass enamel on mouth blown glass, 2016 by Amanda Baron. Image: Mitch Mitchell.

'Reflection', kiln fired glass enamel on mouth blown glass, 2016 by Amanda Baron. Image: Mitch Mitchell.

Amanda Baron – An Observation

We will be showing the work of a contemporary artist for the first time in the office and library spaces of the Trust’s new Edinburgh base as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, opening on Friday 26 July.

We invited Amanda Baron to exhibit a new group of works after she had helped with some archival work for the Trust, which unearthed a previously unrealised shared aesthetic sensibility with Barns-Graham, derived from the close observation of colours and forms in nature. This work was selected for inclusion in the Edinburgh Art Festival in July/August 2019.

Trained in architectural glass followed by a career specialising in stained glass restoration with an expertise in glass painting, Amanda’s recent gallery focused work has centred around abstracted depictions of land and sea in a series of glass fragments and paintings. Each collection reflects her research into and documentation of the elemental nature of Scottish landscape.

Amanda has also selected a specific group of Barns-Graham works from the Trust’s collection which will sit alongside the work she will exhibit. Her intention is to create new paintings and fragments that have an association with, rather than a direct response to, Barns-Graham’s work.

Amanda Baron – An Observation opens at the Trust offices, 77 Brunswick Street, Edinburgh, EH7 5HS on Friday 26 July until Thursday 8 August, Mon-Sat, 11am-4pm. Please see  https://edinburghartfestival.com/ for more information.


'Two Stones, Grey and Black on Ochre', acrylic on paper, 1988, BGT645. © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust

'Two Stones, Grey and Black on Ochre', acrylic on paper, 1988, BGT645. © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust

Nature Observations

The years between 1983 and 1993 were a period of experimentation for Willie. Following the Expanding Forms and Movement in Space series of 1980-81 came a time of creative dynamism which included a new series of collages, continued energy drawings and a varied collection of paintings that evolved from continued observation of the natural world.

Throughout Willie’s life, nature was a primary source of visual material and inspiration. The 1980s proved no exception. Her travels to Lanzarote were an exciting and productive time for her, as had been her journeys to Orkney (1984 and 1985) and Barcelona (1991). But as well as being inspired by distant places, Willie explored the flora and fauna closer to home – a gull’s feather, patterned pebbles, mushrooms, mussel shells, fish, birds. On a grander scale there were the Porthmeor Beach sunsets, the beach furniture, the autumn splendour of Balmungo House’s garden, rock pools, and even the Olympics opening ceremony in Barcelona on the television. Arising from this multitude of source material are paintings of great invention, executed with an increasing use of gestural splatters, circles and re-invigorated colour that signpost the exuberance of her most renowned late work – the Scorpio series.

A selection of Willie’s studies can be found on the Trust’s website in Nature Observationshttps://bit.ly/2wf5M7C


An acrylic painting with an abstract composition of vertical brushstrokes in bright colours at left hand edge on a blue background

Flyover, Ocean Series No. 2, 2002, Acrylic on paper, BGT998

Picture of the Month

This issue’s ‘Picture of the Month’ comes from the Trust’s new Chair, Karyn Watt. Karyn is currently head of infrastructure and a partner in the corporate and commercial team at Anderson Strathern Solicitors. She has over 30 years’ construction industry experience and is accredited by the Law Society of Scotland as a Specialist in Construction Law. In recognition of her major contribution to the industry, Karyn was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Incorporation of Architects Scotland in 2013. She also has a passion for the Arts, and as well as Chairing the WBGT is also a Trustee of Capital Theatres and WASPS.

Karyn has chosen Flyover, Ocean Series No. 2, 2002 (BGT 998), about which she writes ‘The vibrancy of the colour is phenomenal, in particular the blue. It is so kinetic- how is it possible to get so much energy into a painting? Somehow, in spite of that, I find it quite soothing. I could look at it all day. That, I suppose, is a key charm to Willie’s works. Every time you look at one of her works you see something you missed before.’

Gurnard's Head (No.1), 1947, Oil on canvas, BGT3284 on display at Penwith Galleries

Where to see Willie

Willie’s work is being exhibited all over the country, with her work featuring in permanent displays and exhibitions, as well as loans from the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust.

At the Belgrave Gallery we are excited to announce a major solo show ‘A Distant Isle – Wilhelmina Barns-Graham in Lanzarote’ featuring Willie’s work inspired by her trips to Lanzarote (10th – 30th June).

‘50/50: Fifty Women Artists 1900-1950’ is on at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, Leeds (until 20th July). There is still a chance to see the exhibition ‘The World As Yet Unseen; Women Artists in conversation with Partou Zia’ at Falmouth Art Gallery (until 15th June).

At Manchester Art Gallery the exhibition ‘Get Together and Get Things Done’ (17  May – 29 Sept 2019) features the painting ‘Protest’ 1966, on loan from Aberdeen Art Gallery.

In London, you can see our recent gift to the Tate, the large and bold ‘White, Black and Yellow (Composition February 1957)’ now on display at Tate Britain. The touring exhibition with ‘Linear Meditations’ is on at St Mary’s Hospital, where you can see a selection of Willie’s line drawings. This show will then travel on to Hammersmith Hospital later in the year.

At Charleston in East Sussex, the colourful work ‘Warm Up, Cool Down’, 1979 is on display as part of the exhibition ‘In Colour – Sickert to Riley’ (until Aug 30th).

In Oxford at Newham College the work ‘Purple Painting’ 1968 has gone on display, on loan from the Arts Council Collection.

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, donated to the Tate collection by the Trust.

In Dundee at the The McManus, three WBG works from their permanent collection are on display as part of ‘As We See It: Twentieth Century Scottish Art’. On throughout 2019.

In Edinburgh at the Scottish Parliament you can see 5 spectacular, colourful late works on display outside the committee rooms which are publicly accessible.

an oil painting of a factory with no roof and destroyed contents inside. In the background is a hill with a small building at the top and sea behind.

Box Factory Fire, 1948 oil on canvas, BGT6216 going on loan to the RWA.

Looking Ahead

At the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol the popular work ‘Box Factory Fire’ is going on display as part of the exhibition ‘Fire: Flashes to Ashes in British Art 1692-2019’ in the latest of their element-themed exhibitions (15th June – 1st September).

Our new touring exhibition ‘Inspirational Journeys’ opens at its first venue The Granary Gallery in Berwick-upon-Tweed on October 26th.

Also in late October and into November a new exhibition of Willie’s work will be showing at the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh. More information coming soon.