1909 - 1992
McWilliam was born the 30th of April of 1909 at Newry St, Banbridge, Co Down. He left Ireland after spending a brief period at the Belfast School of Art, for London to study at the Slade School of Art, where he was heavily influenced by the sculptor and teacher A.H. Gerard. In 1931 he won the Robert Ross leaving scholarship from the Slade and went to Paris.
The pre-war carvings of McWilliam in stone and wood have as their inspiration images that spring from the subconscious. In those carvings he discovered the tension which could be set between two detached forms, and the agility with which the imagination, when sufficiently provoked, could bridge the gap between them.
Having shown his talent before the war in carving in wood and stone, McWilliam had never entirely abandoned this mean of expression, but in common with most sculptors of his time, he was a craftsman who enjoyed experimenting with new techniques. After the war he began to experiment in a variety of media, drawing on past imagery but in the 50’s his work progressed into more abstract, large freestanding, surface textured bronze works. McWilliam continued to work in bronze also in the 60’s producing a series of figures, 1962-64, with titles suggesting motion as Lying down figure imbuing these with the solidity of machine parts developed from images of the Singer sewing machine he kept in his studio. Immediately after these solidly grounded sculptures, he embarked on a series of bronze ‘Bean’ sculptures 1965-66, inspired by a coco de mer, the huge two-lobed nut of the Seychelles palm, allowing McWilliam the freedom to incorporate a sensual roundness in the polished surfaces and a Surrealist playfulness in added parts.
After a visit in Mexico in the late 1960s he began a series of Mosaics, experimenting with fibre-glass with mosaic facings.
The Girl Series of 1969-71 herald a new departure for McWilliam from the ambiguous bean forms and the mosaics into a series of figurative woman, a subject he revels in, affording him the opportunity to draw and to sculpt in bronze.
The worsening ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland affected McWilliam deeply and with the bombing of the Abercorn Restaurant in Belfast, a place familiar to him, he portrayed this emotion in his series of 20 sculptures ‘Women of Belfast’.
Immediately afterwards, and in total contrast, he began his evocative bronze leg series of 1977-8 which again evoke his surrealistic approach.
McWilliam was an inventor of styles. The variety in his work is a symptom of his restless inquiry into the substance of living things, into their movements, their meetings, their separations and the flow of life in their veins. He has above all the understanding and the instincts of a poet.
McWilliam was an inventor of styles. The variety in his work is a symptom of his restless enquiry into the substance of living things, into their movements, their meetings, their separations and the flow of life in their veins. He has above all the understanding and the instincts of a poet.