Geoff & Scruffy Series

Geoff and Scruffy Series (White Images on Black, Brown and White), 1953, Mixed media on paper, BGT216

Some thoughts on WBG’s important Geoff & Scruffy Series                                               

By Geoffrey Bertram

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s paintings known as Geoff and Scruffy were a significant group of works in which a rhomboid shape is juxtaposed with a half circle, linked by two horizontal bars. Anecdotally the narrative behind this title is that these two shapes were inspired by the seated forms of Geoffrey Tribe and his huge mongrel stray called Scruffy. The idea is particularly suggestive when the painting is in portrait format. In truth, although Barns-Graham went along with the story, these shapes “…..came from drawings done in the war, of men painting buoys – some were green, red, black or white. The shape got simplified. The half moon was the [Porthmeor] beach shape cut by the sea” (the artist quoted in L. Green: W Barns-Graham – a studio life; p145).

The two shapes also echo a group of paintings that contain a chair and table in which the foreshortened tabletop is tilted towards the picture plane, the back and seat of the chair arranged as a curve. If one removes all of the furniture legs one arrives at a very similar juxtaposition of the two forms which, with further simplification, is effectively the same image. It is possible to say therefore that Geoff and Scruffy paintings combine different ideas on which Barns-Graham had been working since 1952. Indeed, a foreshortened tabletop is first seen in her paintings of her studio interior of the late 1940s.

The Geoff and Scruffy paintings, along with Linked Forms series, were painted throughout the mid- 1950s. However, she was to revisit these themes in the late 1980s, with renewed energy and vibrancy. “In May, June, September and October of 1988 I worked with acrylic or gouache on paper, taking up again motifs of 1951-53 and 1958. Done with a large brush, these painting are bolder, stronger in colour, simpler and more free, allowing thing to happen!” (Barns-Graham’s Collected Thoughts in W.Barns-Graham Retrospective 1949-1989 exhibition catalogue, p.13.) In part this was due to a re-discovery of the earlier work arising from the planning for her 1989 retrospective, selected by the late Douglas Hall, first Keeper of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Reviewing her ‘back catalogue’ inspired a new body of paintings that were first exhibited in London in the Spring of 1989, with a small group retained for the retrospective seen at City Art Centre, Edinburgh and Newlyn Art Gallery later that year. (The exhibiton toured also to Perth Museum & Art Gallery, Crawford Centre, St Andrews and McLaurin Art Gallery, Ayr.)

For examples of Geoff & Scruffy paintings visit: