Aged 14, Bernard McGuigan accompanied his art student brother to his first art exhibition and had a ‘light-bulb moment’ when he saw some Modigliani sculptures – as a “poor working-class boy from a council estate”, fine art wasn’t part of his world. He went home, borrowed his father’s chisels and sculpted his first ‘head’ from a concrete block – which he still has at home today. 50 years later and he’s sculpting full time, with buyers and exhibitions all over the world. 

Bernard describes himself as a workaholic. He is self-taught and started making a living as a sculptor in his early 30s when he wanted to work full-time on what was then his ‘hobby’. In closing the door to regular paid employment, other doors immediately started to open. His Soho hairdresser exhibited some of Bernard’s pieces in his salon. These were spotted by a top London gallery owner who offered to show his work. His advice to young, aspiring part-time artists? “You should do it – opportunities will appear that aren’t available to you at the moment.”

Abstract Pieces
CREDIT: Fiona McGarry

He has conflicting feelings about selling his sculptures. It may be years before someone buys a piece – years in which he looks at it at home every day – and it can be hard to let go of those he feels a real affinity with. He says, “It’s always a great honour to sell something … to feel that someone’s prepared to part with their hard-earned money to buy it. Quite often though, when I make a piece, I won’t show it for a while because I have to get used to the idea of it leaving.”

Bernard works in all kinds of stone, including limestone, polyphant stone, slate, alabaster. He is perhaps most known for his serene and bold figurative works, particularly for depictions of lovers and women with flowing hair. 

Most of the works in his studio are abstract, with wonderful, varied textures – circles and holes predominating. He tells me that he started making abstract pieces about 10 years ago when his figurative work didn’t match his feelings. His first abstract pieces were smooth and beautiful on the outside but had rough chunks and slashes reflecting pain on the inside. He says that “It became much more difficult to show and sell my work, but it just happened, and I couldn’t ignore it.” His more recent pieces are still abstract but more harmonious, with the aim of “reflecting the balance and beauty in nature”.

Bernard at Work
CREDIT: Bernard McGuigan

When asked about the process of sculpting, he replies that he has a very clear idea in his head for a piece of work and draws it on scraps of paper or directly onto the stone. “It’s a case of ‘Can I make it be the thing I want it to be?’ Sometimes they really do have a life of their own – I’ll be making a piece and then it says to me: ‘I’m finished.’”

Bernard recently assembled images of his work and produced an exquisite book: Form, Surface
& Mark Making: The Sculpture of Bernard McGuigan
. On the final page he lists his inspirations:

“Kate, clouds & comedy ….

Monuments, mountains & marks in the sand …

The sea, the surreal, sunrises, studios and sunsets …

Best not to analyse too much, best just to get on with the work.”

Bernard McGuigan is exhibiting his work as part of Coastal Currents’ Open Studios along with Kirsty Baring,
Mark Godwin, Judith Shaw, and guest artist, Tessa Holmes on 4th & 5th and 11th & 12th September 4th & 5th,
11am to 5pm at Hop Pole Studios, Westfield TN35 4RL .

Find out more at coastalcurrents.org.uk or kirstybaring.wixsite.com/shiftgallerysussex


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