Out of Abstraction & A Centenary Tribute: Wilhelmina Barns-Graham

August 2012

Publication: The Times

Out of Abstraction &

A Centenary Tribute: Wilhelmina Barns-Graham

The Scottish Gallery


ALTHOUGH the run of The Scottish Gallery’s two complementary shows ‘Out of Abstraction’ and ‘A Centenary Tribute Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’ has ended, the inherent beauty and intelligence of much of the work still resonates colourfully and vibrantly.


Largely because of the work of the Barn-Graham Charitable Trust, the work of the Fife-born artist, who died in 2004 at the age of 92, is becoming significantly better known and substantially higher-priced than it was during her lifetime. This has allowed for the refurbishment of a family home, Balmungo near St Andrews, and the creation of a residency programme there involving artist and writers.


‘Willie’ (as she was universally known), moved to St. Ives in 1940 after her graduation from Edinburgh College of Art. This put her into contact with substantial figures such a Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Naum Gabo. Later she would meet other artists such as Terry Frost, whose work is to be found here in the complementary show ‘Out of Abstraction’ in the form of a medium-sized etching depicting a bisected oval form, entitled ‘Slumber Black’ completed in the year of his death.


As is now common practice with the Scottish Gallery, great attention has been paid to the relationship between the artworks, whether they are sculptures on plinths or wall hung pieces. The same aesthetic awareness applies to the small publications that accompany these shows. The Barns-Graham catalogue is laid out in simple chronological order demonstrating that the bold, colourful vivacity of her abstract works came fairly late in her career. The ‘Out of Abstraction’ catalogue (which also contains a substantial body of work by Barns-Graham) has been devised to create a series of visual ‘dialogues’ such as the explosion of black ink in Barns-Graham’s screen-print November II (1991) and the fissures in the drying blackened oak in Jim Partridge’s and Liz Walmsley’s ‘Craggy Faceted Vessel’ (2012).


This was a gem of a show. Much of it is ‘retrievable’, given the publications that accompanied it and the fact that many of the works were editioned, and are therefore avaliable and almost affordable.