The drawings of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham at Pier Arts Centre, Orkney

By Culture24 Staff | 13 May 2009
a watercolur painting of hills, inlet and scattered housing

W Barns-Graham, Stromness. Courtesy Barns-Graham Charitable Trust

Exhibition Preview – A Discipline of the Mind: The Drawings of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham at Pier Arts Centre, Orkney until June 6 2009

The Pier Arts Centre's current exhibition features the rarely seen drawings of one of the most significant British artists of the 20th century.

More than 50 drawings by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912 – 2004), many of them on show for the first time, have been drawn from the Barns-Graham Charitable Trust to offer a major survey of drawings produced between 1947 and 1993.

The works have been chosen and curated by the writer and critic Mel Gooding, and he explained the importance of the exhibition to the understanding of Barns-Graham’s work.

"That Wilhelmina Barns-Graham was a painter and printmaker of the first rank in post-war British art is increasingly recognised," explained Mel. "This exhibition demonstrates her achievement as one of the finest landscape draughtsmen of her generation. Her drawings have an analytic dynamism and diverse stylistic verve that is utterly original and distinctive.”

As well as being a well known and central figure of the St Ives Group, Barns-Graham also inherited a house in St Andrews in 1960 and divided her time between the two coastal communities until her death in St Andrews in January 2004.

She spent time working in Orkney in the 1980s, becoming an acquaintance of Orkney poet George Mackay Brown and the exhibition includes several drawings from this period.

a sketch of a small island in the middle of an inlet

W Barnes-Grham. Stromness from the Pier Arts Centre. Picture courtesy Barns-Graham Charitable Trust

Many of the drawings were also done during her travels in Switzerland, Italy and Spain and they reveal an inquisitive, analytical mind and a consistent exploration of the structure of landscape, both seen and unseen. A collection of tightly knit line drawings also explore the mass and swell of the sea.

The Pier, which is home to a collection of the work of St Ives artists, is a natural setting for these important drawings – a fact acknowledged by Geoffrey Bertram, Chair of the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust.

"It is marvellous to see this exhibition coming to Stromness," he said. "Wilhelmina Barns-Graham fell in love with Orkney and regretted that she was unable to spend more time there."

Illustrated catalogue with an essay by Mel Gooding accompanies the exhibition. Admission is free.

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