British abstract painter Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004) played a key role in the development of modern abstract art in Britain. This new paperback edition of Lynne Green's classic monograph completes the story of the artist's life and work with a new Coda covering Barns-Graham's final years, which draws for the first time on the artist's personal diaries and notebooks. Born in Fife, Scotland, for over sixty years Barns-Graham lived and worked in St Ives, at the heart of the avant-garde group of artists who made the town internationally famous. Arriving in Cornwall just months after the modernists Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Naum Gabo, Barns-Graham was quickly absorbed into their inner circle. She was subsequently one of the Crypt Group of young moderns, and a founder member of the breakaway Penwith Society of Arts. In what is an important contribution to the history of British art, Lynne Green examines the importance of Barns-Graham's national tradition and of her teachers at Edinburgh School of Art, particularly the Scottish Colourists William Gillies and John Maxwell.
Barns-Graham's developing commitment to abstraction is discussed in detail: never afraid to experiment, her work is revealed as embodying many of the issues central to post-war abstract art. Barns-Graham continued to work right up to her death with the energy and enthusiasm usually associated with the young. Towards the end of her life her art started to attract the attention it deserved, but this was not always the case. Lynne Green's insightful text restores Wilhelmina Barns-Graham to her rightful place in the story of the St Ives School, establishes her personal achievement as a painter, and by implication the importance of her wider contribution to twentieth-century art. Since her death at the age of 91 Barns-Graham's work has enjoyed an increase in attention, not least in the auction rooms. It has also and most importantly, been the subject of re-appraisal through a series of exhibitions and publications. This book remains, however, the only in-depth biographical study of an artist who, despite often being unjustly overlooked, had the courage and determination to pursue her own path, and with spectacular and breathtaking success.
In the last decade of her life Barns-Graham's creative invention blossomed and her output dramatically increased, not least because of her enthusiastic adoption of cutting-edge contemporary screenprinting techniques. In these years she worked with a new sense of urgency and creative freedom, in which risk-taking became a central theme. The result was some of the most exhilarating, joyful, and life-affirming work ever produced by a British artist.