Research notes - Wilhmena Barnes-Graham

Wilhemina Barns-Graham
Movement and Light: Imag[in]ing Time
Tate St Ives
Essay by Mel Gooding

“I am interested in using abstract forms mainly insofar as they are derived directly from natural sources by means of simplification within the movement of the picture itself: painting is pattern…’ WBG in 1949

“What B-G sought to do was to quicken our apprehension and sharpen our perception of the visible world.” – this is what I want to do also is it not? Don’t all painters?

later work says MG sees the development of more formally abstract works with less derivation from natural forms and more direct use of the “resources of painting itself: texture, stroke, colour, and the relations, internal to the canvas rectangle, of purely painted lines, blocks, patches, quasi geometric forms. The contrast that had always been at the heart of her thematic matter, of solid form to atmospheric insubstantiality, of the static architectonic of rock, hill and building to the flux of wind, water and weather, were now expressed in terms of those formal elements. “

“both paintings derive their visual impact not from any subliminal memory of natural forms but from the disturbance created in the spectator by the play across the front picture plane of free floating, off-vertical black diagonals. The sensations – rather than impressions – of scatter, pitch and fall are induced by these foreground elements; behind them the eye finds no place of rest”…. He goes on... Both paintings are brilliant demonstrations of affective and suggestive colour, the one hot, nocturnal, interior, the other cold, winter daytime, out of doors.” P27

‘Colour is for Barns-Graham, like the drawn line, a means to seeing and discovering reality. The formal aspects of her later painting [-] are no longer abstract transcriptions of what is perceived, and her colours have no naturalistic descriptive function. They are, rather, purely pictorial elements whose dynamic relations to each other are analogies for those of the real elements in the phenomenal world.

Time is registered in changes of light and colour, in the speed of stroke and line, in the insubstantial transience of clouds and shadows.

B-G’s non-figuration is never of the formalist kind that claims autonomy from nature. It is essentially an objective art that seeks to reveal, by vivid resemblances, both the chaos and the pattern of nature: its endless movement in time, its degree of darkness, its variegations of light.

[her work] pictures a moment abstracted from the flux of time in its elemental essence.