Wilhelminia Barns-Graham, Autumn Fall, Modern British, Oil, Paper, 1965, St Ives
Wilhelminia Barns-Graham (British,1912-2004) Autumn Fall Signed and dated 'W. Barns Graham 1965' (lower right) Further signed, inscribed and dated 'TITLE/'AUTUMN FALL'/DATE 1965/SIZE 17' x 20 ½'/MEDIUM CRYLA & OIL ON PAPER ONTO/HARDBOARD/ARTIST W. Barns-Graham/ADDRESS 1 BARNLOFT, ST IVES. CWLL.' (on the backboard) Oil on paper, on the artist's worked mount, laid on board
Sheet height 25.5 cm., 9 ¾ in. length 35 cm, 13 ¾ In a wooden box frame. Frame height 45 cm, 17 ¾ length 54 cm., 21 ¼ in.
Related to: Untitled, 1965 oil on canvas, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Important Works from her Career, 16th May-15th June 2006, Art First, London. Scottish Gallery, No 3, 4th-26th June 2007. Cinders 1964, oil and acrylic on paper on hardboard, 58.5 x 91.5 cm, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Evolution, Sherbourne House 3rd November-16th December 2007 Bird Song, 1966 oil on canvas, 60.5 x 121.5 cm. Order & disorder, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, paintings 1965-1980, Art First, London 24th March - 23rd April 2009
Barns-Graham's paintings of 1965-1980 are a distinct group, yet they are also part of a continuing thread that weaves its way through her career, from the glacier paintings of the early 1950s to the liberated abstract expressionism of her final decade. The paintings from this period played a vital role in the development of her future work, and without their intense investigation of 'Order and Disorder', the late work may never have materialised.
Autumn Fall is a very beautiful and characteristic work from 1965. The 'new' imagery of the 1960s explored dynamic colour interacting with simple geometric forms- the square and the circle. The contrapuntal arrangements of shape and colour created a vitality of visual movement which was then disrupted through the introduction of irregular rhythms, to create disorder out of order. Barns-Graham herself referred to 'things of a kind in order and chaos', a description that was appropriated into her picture titles.
What may appear to be random, are carefully crafted complex constructions, relying on invisible underlying mathematical frameworks. Unlike the 'Op Art' current being explored by some artists she knew, like Michael Kidner, as well as a younger generation, such as Bridget Riley, attracting phenomenal publicity, Barns-Graham's painting is less painstakingly repetitive in its formal con- figurations. She was much more interested in the breakdown of structure itself-a process then and now being identified by scientists as a considerable source of power. When combined with her use of primary colours, offset against complementary secondaries, she could endow the paintings with an explosive energy, releasing into pictorial space small clusters of circular discs and tilted squares, in a joyful escape from their linear sequences. Working at Porthmeor Studios in 1947
Born in St Andrews, Fife, and educated at Edinburgh College of Art, in 1940, Barns-Graham moved to St Ives, where she was to be based, either fully or partly, for the rest of her life. St Ives in 1940 was a thriving artists community - many of those who may have otherwise stayed in London had taken refuge there for the duration of the war, and Barns-Graham quickly became bound up in life in the town, already friends with Margaret Mellis and Adrian Stokes she got to know Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Alfred Wallis, Sven Berlin and Naum Gabo among others, and later Peter Lanyon, Terry Frost, Roger Hilton and Bryan Wynter. She became a founding member of the Newlyn Society of Artists and St Ives Society of Artists but was to leave the latter in 1949 when she became a founding member of the Penwith Society of Artists. She was also one of the initial members of the significant Crypt Group. From the beginning, Barns-Graham's primary source of inspiration has been the world around her, the environment in which she lived and worked. Early paintings from 1940 indicate the manner in which she was beginning to deconstruct the landscape, simplifying shapes and forms with their respective colours.
The most significant innovation in her work from the 1940s derived from the ideas of Naum Gabo who was interested in the principle of stereometry - defining forms in terms of space rather than mass. Hepworth was exploring this notion within her sculpture. In Barns-Graham's work, it is first seen in the studies, and subsequent paintings, of the Grindelwald Glacier in Switzerland, which she visited in 1949. In 1965, Barns-Graham vividly described her experience of Grindewald and the work she wanted to create out of it: 'The massive strength and size of the glaciers, the fantastic shapes, the contrast of solidity and transparency, the many reflected colours in the strong light . . . [the] likeness to glass and transparency, combined with solid rough ridges made me wish to combine in a work all angles at once, from above, through, and all round, as a bird flies, a total experience.' It is clear that what she had responded to so profoundly in those momentous days was the present actuality of elemental forces, her vital intuition of nature's hidden inner energies and simple wonder at its spectacular outer forms.
Her divorce in 1960 and inheritance of a house near St Andrews that same year were catalysts for change. Barns-Graham's imagery, diverse as it came to be from the early 1960s onwards, is constantly a synthesised reflection of the natural world. Working through a hard edge abstraction using only colour and basic geometric forms - the square and circle - the paintings are often more descriptive of actual objects than is apparent on first impression. Titles can give clues, as in this example, though titling of pictures was usually left until a painting was finished; at the outset of the painting process no such idea may have been directly in the artist's mind though an association may reveal itself as the picture progressed. Wilhelmina Barns-Graham working in her Barnaloft Studio, 1966 (photo. Ander Gunn) Autumn Fall uses the square motif in a seemingly random arrangement, but with a strong compositional force moving from top to bottom of the sheet.
Autumn Fall is composed of small squares, irregularly placed, to create considerable visual movement. The animation is enhanced by the carefully modulated fiery, orange juxtaposed with white laid onto browns and greens; and soft gold, bronze and greens scattered amongst a palette of browns ranging towards black. Even without its title, the painting is very evocative of leaf fall in Autumn. The strength of this work is not only in its composition, but also in the combination of colour and variety of surface texture which the artist has used, contrasting a smooth and powdery background with a thicker and layered texture to the square forms, each being distinct from the last. Untitled 1963 (Barns-Graham Trust)
This motif of patterns of clean and perfect geometric shapes which would suffuse her work for the next two decades and develop into a looser more expressionistic style in her last years and it is here in the 1960s that she made a transition that was crucial to its development. Noonbreak, 1973-1975 (Government Art Collection) Collage 139 (Moonlit) 1983
Colour, movement and form are the three fundamental elements that underpin all Barns-Graham visual vocabulary. That they are re-invented in so many ways is testament to her talent and imagination. 'Barns-Graham's non-?guration . . . is essentially an objective art that seeks to reveal, by vivid resemblances, both the chaos and the pattern of nature: its in?nite variety and ceaseless change its visible forms and invisible structures, its endless movement in time …'Mel Gooding, from the catalogue: WB-G 'Movement and Light Imag(in)ing Time 'Tate St. Ives, 2005
When she died aged 91, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, was the last surviving member of the original St Ives Group. Since 1991 key exhibitions in London and at the Tate St Ives in 1999/2000 and 2005, as well as two hugely successful national public gallery touring shows in 1992 and 2001, have re-established her position at the forefront of modernist British painting. Her work is found in all major public collections in the UK. 2012 is the centenary year of her birth. As part of the celebrations a series of exhibitions is planned for throughout the country.
Works in public collections • Aberdeen Art Gallery • Art in Healthcare, Scotland • Arts Council of Great Britain, London • Bank of Scotland Collection, London • Baring Brothers & Co. • Birmingham City Museum & Art Gallery • British Council, London • British Museum, London • Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London • Contemporary Art Society, London • Cornwall Education Committee • Cornwall, Truro School Collection • Department of the Environment, London • Deutsche Bank AG • Diamond Trading Co. • Dundee Museum and Art Gallery • Edinburgh City Art Centre • Ferens Art Gallery, Hull • Government Art Collection • Gracefield Arts Centre, Dumfries • Hawick Museum • Hertfordshire Education Authority • Highland Regional Council • Hocken Library, University of Otago, New Zealand • Hove Museum and Art Gallery • Isle of Man Arts Council • Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museums, Glasgow • Kettle's Yard, Cambridge • King's College, Cambridge • Kirkcaldy Art Gallery • Leeds City Art Gallery • Leeds Education Authority • Lillie Art Gallery, Milngavie • Maclaurin Art Gallery, Ayr • Manchester City Art Gallery • Michigan University Museum, USA • National Westminster Bank, London • Newhall College, Cambridge • New South Wales Art Gallery, Sydney, Australia • Nuffield College, Oxford • Peter Scott Gallery, Lancaster University • Plymouth City Art Gallery • Portsmouth City Art Gallery • Scottish Arts Club, Edinburgh • Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh • Sheffield Art Gallery • Southampton City Art Gallery • Southampton University • St Ives Borough, Cornwall • Tate Gallery, London • The Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation, London • Truro School Collection, Cornwall • University of Edinburgh • Victoria and Albert Museum, London • West Riding Education Authority (the former) • Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester • Wolverhampton City Art Gallery Literature: • Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and The Barns-Graham Charitable Trust • Wilhelmina Barns-Graham A Studio Life by Lynne Green, 2001 • Art First, London, Catalogue, 2006 Wilhelmina Barns-Graham : Important Works from her Career' • Sherbourne House Catalogue, 2007 'Evolution : The Work of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham', Sherborne House, Sherborne, Dorset • Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh Catalogue, 2007 'Paintings and Drawings 1952 - 2003' • Trinity Hall, Cambridge Catalogue, 2007 'Elemental Energies: the Art of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham' • The Prints of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham a Complete Catalogue by Ann Gunn , 2007 • Art First, London Catalogue, 2009 'Order and Disorder: Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Paintings 1965-1980' • A Disipline of Mind The Drawings of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Exhibition Catalogue for Piers Arts Centre, 2009 The Barns-Graham Charitable Trust.
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