WBG in Orkney

Untitled [Orkney], 1984, oil on hardboard, 27.9 x 83.1cm. BGT3251.

Untitled [Orkney], 1984, oil on hardboard, 27.9 x 83.1cm. BGT3251.

On 15 August 1984, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham boarded the ferry at Scrabster on Scotland’s far north coast on the final leg of a journey to Stromness to oversee her exhibition at the Pier Arts Centre.

The exhibition was a great success. However rather than returning immediately to St Andrews, she decided to stay on, remaining in Orkney for a further seven weeks. Ensconced as Artist in Residence at the Pier she experienced an extraordinary freedom, unfettered from the regularities of her usual studio life.

The drawings, paintings and collages reveal the inspiration Willie took from Orkney.  They comprise a range of imagery and media, from straightforward drawings through to progressively more abstract images. That she could work simultaneously within widely different visual styles, between the bounds of the literal and the abstract, indicates how comfortable she was in operating in both spheres, and that she had saw no difficulty in doing so.

Willie’s interest in the island’s geology echoed her fascination with Switzerland’s Grindelwald Glacier, and Tuscany in the 1950s. Around the coast, the rock formations lead out to sea, flat and layered like paving slabs. At Warbeth the rocks have a pink/orange hue, while at Birsay, on the north coast, the palette tends towards pink, yellow and tan.  These colours and forms feature in her striking collages arising from her return to Orkney the following year.

Warbeth 3, 1985, Acrylic on paper on hardboard, BGT781

Orkney 1984, pencil and oil on board, 17.7 x 22.8cm. BGT6211.

Orkney 1984, pencil and oil on board, BGT6211.