FE MCWILLIAM CENTRE, BANBRIDGE

Highlanes Municipal Art Gallery works in partnership with Banbridge District Council who have developed the F.E. McWilliam Centre in Banbridge, Co. Down.  F.E. McWilliam (1909-1989) was born in Banbridge and bequeathed his studio the town of his birth. In the last 20 years, Banbridge District Council have acquired several pieces of his work and planned to build a Gallery in his honour which would also act as a visual arts exhibition space for the town of Banbridge. The FE Mc William Centre in Banbridge opened to the public on 26 September, 2008.

The Arts Partnership between Highlanes Gallery and the FE McWilliam Centre worked on this joint project together which sees both the sharing of programme including exhibitions, the project has at its heart a serious effort to increase cross-community and border co-operation in the arts field, as well as encouraging people form both town's to take the opportunity to visit one and other. We will also develop joint education programmes which will involve the exchange of community or school groups. Already, several groups from each town have made the journey up or down, many of whom had previously never visited each others town.

FE Mc William studied painting at Belfast School of Art and at the Slade School of Fine Art in London (1928–1931) before turning to sculpture in the early 1930s. His earliest wood carvings were influenced by archaic and primitive art, especially by African sculpture and by Brancusi's pure reduction of figurative forms, as in Figure (1937; Brit. Govt A. Col.). 

After 1936 his work became increasingly Surrealist in spirit and he was loosely associated with the British Surrealist group; Eye, Nose and Cheek (h. 889 mm, 1939; London, Tate) and other stone carvings of 1938–9 constitute an important contribution to Surrealist sculpture. In these works he developed Auguste Rodin's idea of the fragment with a disconcerting wit, distorting and displacing aspects of the human head in biomorphic configurations. 

After spending most of World War II in service in India, McWilliam returned to London to teach at Chelsea School of Art and at the Slade and he resumed working in a great variety of media, including terracotta, stone, wood and bronze. He joined the London Group in 1949, RBA in 1950 and was elected an RA associate in 1959, resigning four years later. Among McWilliam's many commissions were The Four Seasons for the Festival of Britain, 1951; Father Courage for Kent University at Canterbury, New Zealand, 1960; and Hampstead Figure at Swiss Cottage, London, 1964. 

During the 1950s his work progressed from an attenuated, broken-surfaced figuration towards more hieratic symbolic forms, while retaining a characteristically fantastic or ironic aspect. His mechanomorphic bronze figures of the early 1960s dynamically parody the reclining figures of his friend Henry Moore, while the Bean sculptures of 1965–6, with their swelling organic forms, at once celebrate and satirize sexuality. McWilliam's output is typified by a capricious and fanciful imagination, combined with a predisposition to work in series, exhaustively exploring a theme and then making a radical change in subject and style.

His 'Women of Belfast' series from 1971 was a response to the escalation of violence in Northern Ireland at that time, his treatment of the figure, in which he uses distortion, an expression of extreme emotion. There are some twenty studies in the series; several of which shows women flung back by the impact of a bomb explosion. Both the force of the composition and the texture of the bronze indicate the agony of the subject as a symbol of all innocent victims of violence.

His work is represented in many major national collections including the Tate Gallery, London, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, the Ulster Museum, Banbridge District Council, among others. Retrospectives held at Arts Council of Northern Ireland, 1981 and Tate Gallery, 1989. He lived and worked in London.

Additional Sources: Offer Waterman & Co; Art Fund (UK).

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