Barns-Graham’s early abstracted ‘views’ of St Ives and Cornwall are some of the most well-known of her works. Constructed with a flattening of space and simplicity of line these paintings draw on the evocative colour palette often associated with fellow St Ives artist Alfred Wallis. When asked how he had affected her work, Barns-Graham responded: ‘Yes, I think Alfred Wallis’ greys and greens spoke to me, and did have a big impact on me because they were true’.
Greys/Granite of Penwith
By the late 1940s, Barns-Graham was positioning herself as a painter of landscape and abstract art. Her first solo exhibition at Downing Bookshop and with the Crypt group focus on views of St Ives. However, it’s not the romantic landscape, more closely associated with her Scottish roots, she’s portraying, but the gritty townscape: the working harbour, the rubbish dump, a broken roof, the row of sheds at the back of The Island. These depictions of the industrial architecture of St Ives were a marked contrast to the picturesque views of the town favoured by more traditional artists.
WORK CONCENTRATES ON (THE GREYS) [crossed out] CORNISH LANDSCAPE AND ABSTRACT ART. SHE FEELS THERE IS A (STRANGE) [crossed out] CLOSE AFFINITY BETWEEN THE CELTIC ATMOSPHERES OF SCOTLAND AND CORNWALL. PARTICULARLY INTERESTED IN THE GREYS/GRANITE OF THE PENWITH AREA BY WHICH HER WORK IS BECOMING KNOWN.
Draft biography, c. 1949, WBG…
It’s in these ‘views’ we see the development of Barns-Graham’s growing interest in abstraction. In her 1948 Box Factory Fire (above), perspectives are layered with the external walls and enveloping landscape are simultaneously presented with the burnt-out contents inside. Here the theme of inside/outside looking, popular with her Constructivist contemporaries, Naum Gabo and Barbara Hepworth, emerging within Barns-Graham’s style.
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