Director’s Introduction
Untitled [Spring], 1998, Acrylic on paper, 27.6 x 37.7 cm, BGT3321 © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust
Welcome to the 10th edition of Abstract, the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust’s quarterly newsletter. I am very happy that we have still been able to put together this regular update despite the necessary restrictions imposed upon us. For many, culture in its broadest sense has proved a valuable source of comfort, inspiration and shared experience, albeit consumed quite differently. We hope that via our online and social media resources we are able to make a small contribution to everyone’s wellbeing.

A quick review of the previous edition of Abstract provides a microcosm of what has happened across the museum and galleries sector over the last few months, with exhibitions such as our touring Inspirational Journeys closed after just a few days at the RWA in Bristol and a planned display of Barns-Graham drawings at the Watermill, Aberfeldy put on hold.

As we hopefully safely emerge from lockdown over the coming months, please keep an eye on our social media channels and the News section of the Trust website for new images, articles and information – including a new essay by curator Alice Strang about Barns-Graham’s studios and Geoffrey Bertram’s reminiscences described below, as well as news about exhibitions re-opening and opportunities to see Barns-Graham’s in the flesh.

Elsewhere online in the coming weeks look out for new Barns-Graham related content on the Lines from Scotland exhibition site. At ArtUK a new Barns-Graham Curations exhibition will be launched looking at her work in the 21st century, and in their excellent shop a new range of products will soon be available. Finally, we are delighted that author Peyton Skipwith has penned a new article introducing Barns-Graham available in the June 3rd edition of Country Life.  Our social media channels will highlight all these new developments as they become available.

Collages at Waterhouse & Dodd
Collage 83, 1983, Oil & acrylic on card laid on hardboard, 10.5 x 15.5 cm, BGT795 © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust
Waterhouse & Dodd are presenting a fine collection of twelve Wilhelmina Barns-Graham collages on their website, made between 1982 and 1987. The first, mostly small in scale, were constructed using tiny disks of card made via a hole punch. The disks were arranged and glued into place, built up in layers as a relief, before being painted, the brush often dragged across the surfaces. In them Barns-Graham created a great sense of flow and movement, echoing elements of older work as found in the series Things of a Kind: Order and Disorder.

Disks came to be supplemented with rectangular strips of card that opened alternative spaces in a composition. As the collages developed, the rectangular shapes were used without the disks in a separate series of images where they moved across the picture plane, mainly from left to right, that reflect other paintings she was working on around that time, Family and Tribute in particular.

The collages can evoke some semblance of landscape but Barns-Graham is usually unspecific regarding the genesis of her ideas. One exception in this group is Warbeth 3, which does reflect a particular experience. Warbeth is located on the west side of Orkney’s main island where she first visited in 1984. There she discovered the remarkable coastal geology with its platform strata that extends out to sea. The shapes of the card are inspired by this, as is the palette, sourced from the rock and sea, and from the rusting hulk of an old trawler, that sits stranded there.

View the collection
Reminiscences: Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Exhibitions between 1981 and 1997
 Summer Painting No.2, 1985, Oil on canvas, 91.3 x 121.4 cm, BGT463 © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust
Geoffrey Bertram has been closely involved with Wilhelmina Barns-Graham since the 1980s, particularly as her commercial representative during the 1990s. Subsequently he became the first Chair of the Trust, a post he held from 2004 until 2019. Having stepped down as a Trustee, he has remained the Trust’s commercial consultant, which he continues until his retirement in August 2020. A dedicated supporter of Barns-Graham’s art for the best part of 40 years, we are delighted that he has looked back in detail at some of the important exhibitions he worked on. Available on the Trust website, he introduces them here.

Geoffrey Bertram writes:

When I arrived in London in August 1988 to join the Scottish Gallery, I found that Wilhelmina Barns-Graham was one of the artists under contract to them. The first Barns-Graham exhibition was held in the new gallery in April 1989, and during the next fifteen years, up until her death on 26 January 2004, I was involved closely with all of her subsequent London exhibitions. This was all before I was invited in August 2004 to become a trustee of her Trust, for which I have overseen all of the commercial exhibitions up until now. However, my first encounter with Wilhelmina Barns-Graham was in Edinburgh in 1981.

As I come to the end of my time with the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust, I have been looking back on some of her past exhibitions that I was involved with in one way or another. It spans close to forty years. I feel especially privileged though to have worked with her during the last period of her life when representing her at Art First. I will always cherish my experiences with her and her administrator and friend, Rowan James. Recently, I have set down some reminiscences about five exhibitions from the 1980s and 1990s as they illustrate how far Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s reputation has improved during the past decades. In 1989 it was very much in the doldrums but that is certainly not the case today as her contribution to modern British painting is now properly recognised.

My commentaries are on the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust website, each with links to galleries of paintings and drawings that were in the very exhibitions described and, being unsold, were bequeathed to her Trust. It may be surprising to find that the Trust inherited so many, but that is part of the story of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s career.

Natasha Jensen – RSA Barns-Graham Travel Award
Honey Pot (Installation Shot), Pencil crayon on archival pink paper, installation, 2019. Image courtesy of artist.
We are very happy to announce that Natasha Jensen has been selected to receive the annual RSA Barns-Graham Travel Award, she is just about to complete her MA in Contemporary Art Practice at Edinburgh College of Art and will undertake the travel later this year. Inspired by Robert Thornton’s Temple of Flora (c. 1807), a scientific and illustrated book of flowers containing a series of sumptuous depictions of flowers notable for their epic and unusual settings, Natasha will travel to the Isle of Eigg to collect plants and flora to create a studio herbarium which will be the inspiration for a new body of work and research around the ethics of collecting and categorisation.

Natasha’s final exhibition will result in 6 large scale drawings measuring 6’x6′, meticulously rendered in pencil crayon and a zine of the collection of research at the Isle of Eigg. Additionally, as part of the residency, she will connect with the local naturalist community to learn more about the island’s plant-life and its importance to the local population.

Knit Your Own Barns-Graham Tie
Two ties knitted using the pattern created by Jeni Allison. The first was made by Sonia Hayes as a birthday present for her son and the second by Veronica Olsson, a volunteer at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester.
In April, we published a knitting pattern to recreate on of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s knitted ties. The pattern was created for us by technical knitwear designer, Jeni Allison, based tie Number 30. Willie created over 50 unique ties in the mid-1980s and it’s wonderful to see how these have inspired knitters to create their own versions. We asked knitters to send images of their finished ties with us and we are delighted to share some images we’ve already received of ties created by Sonia Hayes and Veronica Olsson. Thanks so much!

If you are interested in making your own, the knitting pattern is available for download from our website and you can share your progress and final make with us on social media using hashtag #KnitBarnsGraham or emailing to

Download Knitted Tie Pattern
Where to see Willie from home
With all museums and galleries closed at the moment, there are many ways to experience Willie’s work from home, including virtual exhibitions, tours and activities. 

Our touring exhibition Wilhelmina Barns-Graham: Inspirational Journeys is currently resting at Royal West of England Academy and will reopen once it is safe to do so. They are currently preparing a video tour of the exhibition and the accompanying  St Ives: Movements in Art and Life exhibition. In the meantime, the works in the exhibition can been seen on our website. Royal West of England Academy have also created activity packs for both primary and secondary school ages inspired by the exhibition.

Lines from Scotland, an exhibition by Fife Contemporary with loans from the Trust, has moved online with INSIGHTS, evolving series of online contributions from the curator and artists revealing more about their ideas and practice. Look out for forthcoming content on Barns-Graham.

Image: Wave Energy, 1975, Pen, ink & oil on card, 17.4 x 17.6 cm, BGT142 © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust

Until 15 June, Waterhouse & Dodd are hosting the online exhibition Wilhelmina Barns Graham: Collages from the 1980s, a group of twelve painted reliefs made between 1982 and 1987.

As part of Art in Healthcare’s social prescribing project, Room for Art, artist Fraser Gray has produced activity cards to create abstract exhibitions inspired by Barns-Graham works in the collection. More information is available on their Facebook page.

Paintings in Hospitals have created a series of audio mindfulness exercises to accompany the virtual version of Linear Meditations, an exhibition of Barns-Graham’s small energy drawings currently on display at Milton Keynes University Hospital supporting expectant mothers.

Image: Music of the Sea, 1976, Pen, ink & oil on card, 15.2 x 15.2 cm, BGT211 © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust

In Memoriam
Fiona Smith
It is with great sadness that we must announce the recent passing away of the Trust’s longest serving employee. Fiona Smith served as the Trust’s bookkeeper from 2011, during this time she saw a lot of changes at the Trust – initially she was based at Balmungo, Barns-Graham’s former home. When sold in 2013 she worked from home and helped manage the comings and goings from the Trust art store, latterly she divided her work time between her home in Cupar and the Trust’s new base in Edinburgh.  Conscientious, generous and full of fun, she will be greatly missed by all the Trust staff and Trustees, our deepest condolences to all her family and friends.
Image above: Balmungo Garden Autumn, c. 1981, Oil on canvas, 60.5 x 90.8 cm. BGT1246 © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust
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Just received this – love her colours and simple (sometimes) shapes

One thought on “Just received this – love her colours and simple (sometimes) shapes

  • June 8, 2020 at 2:06 pm

    Love the glow and energy of her work. WBG always a favourite.

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