The life of an artist, dedicated to the pursuit of the intangible truth, and the means of its expression, is in many ways a lonely one. Choices have to be made regarding how one’s time and energy are spent and this is at a cost to normal human relationships, family and material needs.
I met Willie the first time the year before we opened the Belgrave Gallery in St Ives over 15 years ago. She was introduced to me by Sue and Sebastian Halliday, who were mutual acquaintances, at their Barnaloft flat and although I was familiar with her work (the gallery had purchased paintings by her as part of its Modern British Art Collection over the years) I was immediately impressed by her perceptive intelligence, keen interest and warmth as a person.
As I came to know Willie a little more over the following years I became aware, even at this relatively late stage of her career, of her fortitude, resilience and determination, qualities that had never faltered. But also, this apparently hard exterior masked a sensitive, sometimes vulnerable human being. She was ever supportive of my efforts with the gallery and generous through her empathy with personal matters.
A critique of the artist’s work is found elsewhere within this exhibition, so I’ll simply say I understand her work to be a rare combination of rigorous structure (constructed drawing) and personal expression (emotive handling of form and colour).
Although I came to know Willie only in the later period of her life I was pleased to witness her receive the various accolades she so rightly deserved for a lifetime’s dedication to art.
I hope this exhibition helps to mark in a small way the legacy of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham with our particular emphasis on the St Ives work in this centenary year of her birth.