Her words “in my paintings I want to express the joy and importance of colour, texture, energy and vibrancy with an awareness of space and construction. A celebration of life” really do conclude why Wilhelmina Barns-Graham is regarded as a truly unique, expressional abstract British artist. Affectionately known as Willie, she was born in Fife, Scotland and her creative talent was discovered and noted very early on, inspiring her to pursue an education in art, attending and graduating from Edinburgh College in 1937.
Wilhelmina was encouraged to move to St Ives in 1940, for her health, for inspiration and as a safe haven away from a country at war. She befriended many influential artists here including Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Naum Gabo. At the time, St Ives was also a hub of modernistic activity, seeing the settlement of many more now widely recognised artists. She was a founding member of the influential Penwith Society.
Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s work changed throughout her career, though never faltering, taking on new approaches and moving forward, drawing on all her experiences both in life and technique. Formerly a figurative painter, she moved on into abstraction, primarily using landscapes from the countries she travelled. Her work evolved further and she concentrated on colour and vibrancy, painting tumbling squares and circles, studying mass instead of form but always maintaining quality and perspective. In her later years, Wilhelmina was painting with both the freedom and expertise of an artist with nothing but talent, resource and experience at her fingertips. She was elected as an honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1999 and awarded a CBE in 2001.
Wilhelmina Barns-Graham passed away in 2004 leaving her legacy, the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust. The Trust secures her work and reputation, displaying in art galleries throughout the country, engaging with and educating visitors on her life and works. The Trust also importantly offers bursaries to students that would often be unable to attend art school, just as the opportunity was given to her.
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