This image is unique among the artworks by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham in the Art in Healthcare Collection as it is not a screenprint, but rather an etching on paper. Yet it retains the artist's fundamental style, stripped down to the basics - the imagery is simple and abstract, and utilises the most fundamental colour contrast between white and black for maximum visual impact. The contrast between the busy central third and the empty space of the rest of the piece is particularly strong. Beginning at the top of the image, the lines are relatively straight and become increasingly erratic as they progress - forming undulating waves criss-crossing each other. The nature of the waves must be explained by the imagination of the viewer - possibilities include the lines of a seismograph or polygraph, waves of the sea or the crest of a hillside. It is even possible that they represent the eight notes of music that form a standard octave scale, forming waves of sound in the air. Ultimately, any interpretation is up to the viewer.
Wilhelmina made the transition from painting to printmaking in her 80s. 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 (1912-2004) 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 her 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 Wilhelmina in 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 - "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 20th 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.