November IV
By Wilhelmina Barns-Graham

none
Year
1991
Media
Printmaking
Subject Matter
Abstract
Reg. Number
L354
Size
60 x cm

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From a distance, the green field that forms the background of this print appears uniform, but is actually made up of mottled colours, an effect created by adding a layer of luminous yellow speckles beneath as the first layer. Through the light paint is difficult to make out against the paper, the bottom layer is still visible around the edges of this piece. The field at the left edge of the image is a lighter shade of green, forming a semicircle. The green background gradually gets darker towards the bottom of the image.

The hallmarks of Wilhelmina's late phase are displayed here - an abstract image reminiscent of a landscape, using simple forms and the medium of print while retaining the feel of paint. The image resembles an outside area, with the incomplete, rounded oblong reminiscent of a sports track. The lower part of this 'circuit' is lacking paint, suggesting a single brush-stroke in which the artist ran out of paint, rather like an athlete running out of breath.

Wilhelmina made the transition from painting to printmaking when she was in her eighties. At first she was sceptical of the medium but became inspired by the amount of work she could now accomplish and began creating more work than her printmaker could keep up with:
"At my age, there's no time to be lost. I say to myself, 'Do it now, say it now, don't be afraid'. I've got today, but who knows about tomorrow? I'm not ready for death yet, there's still so much I want to do. Life is so exciting; nature is so exciting. Trying to catch one simple statement about it. That's what I'm aiming for, I'll keep on trying".

Born in St Andrews in 1912 and trained at Edinburgh College of Art from 1932-37, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham became one of the most prominent members of the St Ives Society of Artists in Cornwall. Despite being born into a wealthy Scottish family, no one could accuse Wilhelmina of not working hard to get the recognition as an artist that she felt she deserved. Her journey was not an easy one, filled with deterrents, sickness, and many hardships along the way but nothing would stop her passion for creating. Wilhelmina's parents were so against her dreams of enrolling in art school that they forced her into the Edinburgh College of Domestic Science where she slipped away from classes to read art books. Six months later, she was enrolled in the Edinburgh College of Art to begin her life as an artist.
After graduating, Wilhelmina moved to Cornwall and became part of the St Ives artist community, developing her sense of abstraction based on the Cornish landscape. For the rest of her life, Wilhelmina would divide her time between her studios in Cornwall and St Andrews, working hard to gain recognition as a female artist in what she saw as a world dominated by male artists. She saw her artwork in much the same way and said, "I want my work to be a simple statement . . . A world in itself - of small area against large masses".
By the end of her life, Wilhelmina had achieved what few other artists had - honorary doctorates by esteemed universities; a trust to preserve her legacy; and perhaps most important to her, recognition for her contributions to twentieth century art.
The Barns-Graham Charitable Trust was established by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham in 1987 and came into effect following her death in January 2004. It was created to secure her life's work and archive for future generations.


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