New exhibition celebrates Bernard Reynolds: sculptor and engineer

Sculptor Bernard Reynolds, pictured at work on 28th January 1993

Sculptor Bernard Reynolds, pictured at work on 28th January 1993 - Credit: Archant

Bernard Reynolds was one of the great names of Suffolk art. In what would have been his centenary year his family have organised a major retrospective exhibition on the Ipswich Waterfront. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to Kate Reynolds about the far-reaching impact of her father’s work

Sculptures by Bernard Reynolds featured in his centenary year retrospective exhibition at the UCS on

Sculptures by Bernard Reynolds featured in his centenary year retrospective exhibition at the UCS on Ipswich Waterfront - 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. She said that 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.

Sculptures by Bernard Reynolds featured in his centenary year retrospective exhibition at the UCS on

Sculptures by Bernard Reynolds featured in his centenary year retrospective exhibition at the UCS on Ipswich Waterfront - Credit: Archant


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“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.”

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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 24ft stained-glass window in St. Matthew’s School.

Bernard Reynolds at work in his studio creating one of his famed micomorphs

Bernard Reynolds at work in his studio creating one of his famed micomorphs - 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 said that she remains very proud of the fact that so many contemporary artists who passed through her father’s hands when he was a senior tutor at the Ipswich Art School still talk so fondly of their time at was is now regarded as a revered institution.

“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 ever telling them what they should be doing.

Sculptures by Bernard Reynolds featured in his centenary year retrospective exhibition at the UCS on

Sculptures by Bernard Reynolds featured in his centenary year retrospective exhibition at the UCS on Ipswich Waterfront - Credit: Archant

“And the students kept him young. It was very much a two-way affair. He would be 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 that throughout his time at the art school 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. “Dad was always working. He was always down in his basement working on something.”

She said that they will have about 22 sculptural pieces on display with the largest being human height and some are “pretty hefty” which they hope will make a statement to students and visitors to the university.

Sculptures by Bernard Reynolds featured in his centenary year retrospective exhibition at the UCS on

Sculptures by Bernard Reynolds featured in his centenary year retrospective exhibition at the UCS on Ipswich Waterfront - Credit: Archant

“We also want to display some of his smaller, interactive 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. He enjoyed spending time resolving these very practical problems. It didn’t matter how long it took. When he finished it, it was amazing. He loved working on something until it was just right. He had incredible focus.”

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

“His archive was just amazing and really demonstrates the scope and breadth of his interest. Also it was very important to him that he was a working artist and not just a teacher. Teaching was important but his own work was what drove him forward. I think it was important that his students knew that they were being taught by someone who created their own work.

Sculptor Bernard Reynolds, working in his studio 6th June 1989

Sculptor Bernard Reynolds, working in his studio 6th June 1989 - Credit: Archant

“He always gave 110% of himself and was quite a slave to the workshop.”

Kate said that when she started her own journey in art, her Dad cast quite a large shadow. “When I started to take an interest in art and I started getting feedback from him, it buoyed me along and when he started to envy some of my drawings that gave me a real buzz. He actually said to me once: ‘I wish I could draw like you, Kate,’ and to have someone I really admired, envy me was a really special moment and I felt that: ‘yes, I can make this work’.”

She said that Bernard had definite themes which he would return to time and again over several decades. The micomorph series of sculptures was a recurrent form which he kept recreating. “They were interpretations of fungoid forms, he sculpted growth shapes which looked slightly primeval and he also loved working on figures. He was drawn back to those two predominate themes for 20-30 years but they continued to evolve and he made many different types and they were never the same. Some were made in wood, some were bronze, some were made in plaster, some were cast in different materials. He loved to explore every avenue.”

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

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