Bankshead, once a Roman mile-castle and temple to Cocidius, stands on Handrian's Wall some 15 miles east of Carlisle. Here overlooking the Irthing Valley and beyond to the edge of the Pennines, Winifred nicholson spent most of her life. IT if a landscape that inspired a host of visiting painters, Christopher Wood, Ivon Hitchens and Paul Nash among them. A wild, misty place with restless grey skies.
Out of this landscape Winifred Nicholson urged the polarities that constitute most of her paintings: flowers and landscape. Placing flowers nearby, and the far-flung fells and skies in the distance, she explored their marriage. Akin to this exporation and central to her life's work has been a search for elusive colors which "danced in light."
Flowers and jewels were the things that, for her, held the most light. Yet jewels she rejected as she rejected hybrid flowers from shops; both were buttonholes of conceit. Her flowers were will reflections of life's energy. In Bankshead's garden there was no distinction between a flower and a weed, all were welcome.
She saw the flowers she painted as people. They danced, stood proudly, then drooped and died. This cycle was recalled in a story of her visit to Brancusi's studio in the Impasse Ronsard in Paris many years ago. There Brancusi kept jugs of skeletal flowers which he maintained were just as beautiful in their death as in their life.
Even in her abstract paintings, done in Paris in the '20s, she never lost her sense of poetic imagination, and these paintings remain a special contribution to abstract painting. She saw no conflict between abstract and representational work, and in the later paintings she often began with a series of arcs or movements. What was of no use to her were hard edges and flat colours.
Part poet, part visionary, she explored colours where they lay just beyond our normal sight on the edges of perception. Her last years were spent looking at the world through a prism and trying to capture the rainbow colors that she saw. She knew that all colour comes from the sun and that her flowers chose to absorb all colours except the one they transmitted to her. But how did they choose? Where did all the absorbed colours go? These were the fascinations of her last years of work.
From the prism and from the rainbows that shoot across grey Cumbrian skies, she learned that all colours were within all things. To capture those transient spectral hues with her brush became her intense concern. In the last ethereal paintings of 1980 the prismatic colours linked themselves to the skies and the flowers. The colours were allowed to spill out of their forms as an expression of their unfleshed energy and melded together into a vision of flowers, landscapes and rainbow light.