In the glaciers, Barns-Graham discovered a new subject all her own, one which spurred a move into abstraction and from which a veritable outpouring of paintings, drawings and prints flowed. Despite the brevity of the trip, it was to prove a rich and lasting source of inspiration, and she returned again and again to the glacier theme over the years. Glacier (Bone) is a beautiful example of one of the series of ‘Glacier Abstractions’ paintings Barns-Graham produced following the trip, epitomising the critic J.P. Hodin’s view that in these works she ‘reached not only a material beauty...but also a musical beauty through abstract forms’ (J.P. Hodin, ‘Cornish Renaissance’, Penguin New Writing, no.39, 1950, p.122).
Comprised of complex layers, Glacier (Bone) captures the transience and translucence of the glacial ice with a remarkable fluency. Barns-Graham spoke of her wish to present not just an image of this landscape but the sensation of it: she sought to ‘combine in a work all angles at once, from above, through, and all round, as a bird flies, a total experience’ (the Artist, op. cit., p.105). Employing a cool, glassy palette she captures all elements of this landscape: the vast, static expanses of ice, the dark earth bordering it, the lemon-yellow light glancing off its smooth surface, the cracking and splintering of crystalline shards. The surface is intricately worked, layers of oil paint applied and scraped back, incised and shaped by sharp, interweaving lines of graphite. The result is a deftly captured landscape of remarkable freshness, still as exciting and relevant now as it was upon its creation over half a century ago.
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