‘Scorpio I 1996 etchingandaquatint courtesy Wilhelmina Barns Graham Trust’

Celebrating a pioneer artist

By Published On: 10th August 20222.4 min readCategories: Arts and Culture

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A new exhibition at Glasgow Print Studio showcases the life and work of one of the most celebrated Scottish painters of the 20th century.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, who died in 2004, was first and foremost a painter but she made prints throughout her working life, trying many different methods such as etching, linocut, lithography and screenprinting.

‘Sunghrie 1999 Acrylic on paper 58 x 76 cm_courtesy WBG Trust’

Sunghrie 1999 Acrylic on paper 58 x 76 cm_courtesy WBG Trust

All her published prints were made in collaboration with master printmakers. Their technical expertise was essential, enabling her to translate her way of working into a different medium.

Born in St Andrews in 1912 she studied at Edinburgh College of Art from 1931 to 1937 before settling in St Ives in Cornwall in 1940. It was there she found a well-established artistic community, which was also beginning to attract a new generation of artists, such as Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. For the next 60 years she lived and worked in St Ives.

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WBG 1992 photo David Roche

In 1960 she inherited Balmungo, a house on the edge of St Andrews, and after that she spent a part of every year in Scotland, affirming herself as a Scottish artist as much as a Cornish one.

‘Earth Series II 2002 screenprint courtesy WBG Trust’

Earth Series II 2002 screenprint courtesy WBG Trust

During the last 10 or so years of her long artistic career, printmaking became a central part of Barns-Graham’s practice, particularly after 1998 when she began working with Graal Press, Roslin, near Edinburgh. Earlier prints such as a group of screenprints made with Kip Gresham at Curwen Studio in 1991 and three etchings she made with Rachel Kantaris in St Ives in 1996 were often based on existing original works. She was encouraged by the successful way in which her images could be translated into print form, and intrigued by the possibilities for making original works in this medium.

This exhibition at Glasgow Print Studio examines for the first time the fascinating and dynamic relationship between two distinct areas of Barns-Graham’s practice, by showing related paintings, prints and overpainted prints together.

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White Circle Series 1 2003 screenprint courtesy WBG Trust

“Printmaking was a central part of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s practice, particularly in the last 10 years of her career during which she produced a significant number of screenprints with the Midlothian based printers Graal Press,” said Rob Airey, Director, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust.

Working alongside master printmakers, Barns-Graham is considered a true pioneer of technical innovations in printmaking. She experimented with a variety of new techniques and materials that allowed her to create prints with intensity of colour and precision of design.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham: Painting and Printing at Glasgow Print Studio runs until 1 October. It is free to view.