WBG and Naum Gabo

Naum Gabo Red Kinetic Painting 97 1943 Estate of Naum Gabo. © Nina & Graham Williams


A major exhibition of Naum Gabo is being hosted by Tate St Ives. Gabo, one of the pioneers of constructivism, lived in St Ives between outset of World War II in 1939 and November 1946 when he and his family emigrated to the USA. As friends of Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, he and his wife Miriam followed them from London to Cornwall to escape the war, first staying with Adrian Stokes and Margaret Mellis at Little Parc Owles in Carbis Bay, before finding their own bungalow Faerystones nearby.


Many of the artists working in St Ives around this time came to know Gabo, including Wilhelmina Barns-Graham who was introduced to him through her Edinburgh College of Art friend Mellis. She liked Gabo very much, as did all who met him.


While Gabo was in St Ives, there is no evidence of his theories or vision in Barns-Graham’s work of this period. Her paintings indicate nothing of Gabo’s notions of rhythm, movement, time and structural force that inspired the transparency of his sculptures, or his paintings. However, her visit to the Grindelwald Glacier, Switzerland in 1949 changed all that. This occasion was a transformative experience. Here was the reality of Gabo’s explorations of form in space as found in the real world.


Barns-Graham was mesmerised by the glaciers. The resulting paintings and drawings were widely acclaimed, putting Barns-Graham on the artworld map. These works are still regarded as the first highlight of her artistic career. There is no doubt that Gabo opened her eyes to the possibilities of constructivism but she was not an artist whose natural proclivity led her down that theoretical road. Her work was tied to the world she observed around her, not to a purely intellectual abstraction. Even when comparing her resulting paintings to those of Gabo, though visual similarities are evident, they are not of the same ilk. Nonetheless, without Gabo it is highly unlikely that she would have made the connection while up on the glacier.


READ THE FULL ARTICLE  at www.barns-grahamtrust.org.uk/The-Trust/articles/Article-11.html


Naum Gabo at Tate St Ives, 25 January – 3 May 2020

For more information visit https://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-st-ives



Naum Gabo Construction in Depths 1944 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection. Naum Gabo © Nina & Graham Williams

Painting with abstract large abstract shapes in blues, greens and greys. At the centre is a small black oval.

Naum Gabo Spiral Theme 1941 Tate © Nina & Graham Williams/Tate 2020