The bright bold colours and movement of geometric shapes in Wilhelmina's Celebration at 90, were inspired by the artist's experience of watching the fireworks display at the Barcelona Olympics. In collaboration with artist, Carol Robertson, she invented a technique which allowed the screen print to be more painterly, with translucent inks and brush marks that transform into rectangles. The series also symbolises Wilhelmina's resilience - she was worried she would be too frail to undertake the physical demands of printmaking, but with the support of others she saw her bright vision appear on paper.
Born in St Andrews in 1912 and trained at Edinburgh College of Art from 1932-37, Barns-Graham became one of the most prominent members of the St Ives Society of Artists in Cornwall. This work demonstrates Barns-Graham's distinctive feel for composition, using radiant colour and pleasing simple forms to create an aesthetic harmonious effect.
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."
Despite being born into a wealthy Scottish family, no one could accuse Wilhelmina Barns-Graham 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.