A life in art . . . Andrew Clarke celebrates the work of sculptor Bernard Reynolds

Bernard Reynolds sculpture

Bernard Reynolds sculpture - Credit: Archant

Suffolk artist Bernard Reynolds would have been 100 this year. Now his family has organised a major retrospective exhibition on Ipswich Waterfront. Andrew Clarke spoke to his daughter Kate Reynolds

Bernard Reynolds sculpture

Bernard Reynolds sculpture - Credit: Archant

Celebrated Suffolk sculptor Bernard Reynolds is receiving a major retrospective exhibition on the Ipswich Waterfront in what would have been his centenary year.

The exhibition has been organised by his family in conjunction with the UCS and the exhibition of drawings and various pieces of sculpture and maquettes will be dotted in and around the foyer gallery at the university.

Reynolds’ daughter Kate, an artist and ceramicist, is helping to curate the exhibition with her sister Joanna. The bulk of the exhibition has been drawn from items still in the family and some on loan from friends and collectors.

“We still have a lot in the family and we wanted to do something special to mark what would have been his 100th birthday this year.

Bernard Reynolds sculpture

Bernard Reynolds sculpture - Credit: Archant

“Doing it at the university would have really appealed to Dad because he spent so many years teaching at the Ipswich Art School and it is readily accessible because it is a central location.

“The centenary is a wonderful time to remind people what a phenomenal artist he was. He had tremendous energy. He was always working – teaching during the day and creating his own work at night and at weekends.”

Most Read

Bernard was also commissioned to create many pieces of public sculpture in Ipswich, the most famous being The Ship outside the Civic Centre and the pylons outside the former Suffolk College.

Other public works included cement reliefs on the Castle Hill and Sprites Lane schools, a stone relief on the Eastern Counties Farmers Head Office in Princes Street and a 24 ft stained-glass window in St Matthew’s School.

Bernard Reynolds sculpture

Bernard Reynolds sculpture - Credit: Archant

She said that the setting up and the layout of the exhibition was going to be quite challenging because Bernard worked on such a large scale. But, she stressed that the exhibition was not just going to be about large blocks of stone or metal as they wanted to present a show which celebrated the breadth and diversity of his work.

“Dad was known as a sculptor but he was also a superb draughtsman and a wonderful engineer and we wanted the exhibition to reflect these sides of his character as well.”

She remains very proud of the fact that so many contemporary artists who were taught by her father when he was a senior tutor at the Ipswich Art School still talk so fondly of their time there.

“I think Dad really took an interest in his students and wanted to nurture their talent. He viewed them as individuals. He realised that everyone is different and that those early stages in your art career are very important. By the time you are doing your degree you are on your way but on the foundation course you are still trying to discover who you are.

“I think because of the breadth of my dad’s interest in art, he was able to give his students pointers based on their own work. He would say have a look at so-so, or these are the artists that excite me, have a look at their work and tell me what you think. He gave his students jumping off points without every telling them what they should be doing.

“And the students kept him young. It was very much a two-way affair. He would excited by their new ways of looking at the world and the art school in the 1960s and 70s was much smaller, more of a family affair, and you got to know everyone as an individual.”

Kate said the heart of his teaching was concerned with allowing his students to perfect technique and get to understand the materials they were working with. “For Dad everything started with the materials and having the right tools and approaching a project in a particular way was very important.”

Bernard’s own work covered a vast array of different forms and he worked in a wide range of materials from stone, metal, concrete and wood.

There will be about 22 sculptural pieces on display, the largest being human height and some “pretty hefty” which the family hope will make a statement to students and visitors to the university.

“We also want to display some of his smaller, inter-active works where people have to open doors or turn handles. They are made of wood and demonstrate what an exceptional engineer he was. Everything was made by hand and they continue to work beautifully.

“I remember one piece of automata called The Cyclops took him 20 years to make because it was full of hand-made cogs which he would work on for a while, put aside to work on something else and then come back to it. When he finished it, it was amazing. He had incredible focus.”

Many of Reynolds drawings and photographs, many unseen for 40 years, will also be on display.

The exhibition, 100 Years: Bernard Reynolds is at the UCS Waterfront building until May 6.