University Campus Suffolk (UCS) Waterfront Gallery is currently hosting a retrospective of Bernard Reynolds, (1915–1997), to celebrate the centenary of his birth. Reynolds was an innovative sculptor and educator from East Anglia whose name is well established in Ipswich. However, wandering through the exhibition the other day I was struck by how much of an important review of his work this is, especially as he was overlooked in favour of many of his contemporaries who went on to be world-renowned. Reynolds’ website states: “…although Bernard is most widely known as a sculptor, he possessed the capacity to be an inspirational teacher as well as an artist, and he fulfilled both of these roles with his own particular kind of integrity. Far from flamboyantly ‘arty’, Bernard’s approach was no less passionate for the application of a quietly rigorous self-imposed discipline to every project he undertook—and his projects were many and varied.”
Bird sculls feature heavily throughout the show in a variety of different mediums. It is also good to see his preliminary drawings and sketchbook work alongside finished outcomes.
I noticed a sense of comic exploration in many of the pieces, alongside a strong mythical presence. I was reminded of headwear I’ve seen adorned by people in photographs or documentaries examining English folk-lore customs—particularly in that of the parrot and crows’ head sculptures. While a large aspect of this is due to the subject matter itself, it is as if Reynolds has accentuated these qualities in his work. While I was aware of Reynolds before I saw this exhibition, and had seen some of his public work in Ipswich, much of what is on show here was new to me. Despite this, I couldn’t help feeling very familiar with his approach to sculpture and artistic vocabulary.
Although Reynolds was of the modern era of sculpture, some of his subject matter, as mentioned above, seems at odds with this austere movement. He clearly didn’t want to over-complicate his work with intellectual theories and as a result there is a real sense of joy in both subject matter and in Reynolds’ act of making. This is by no means a dour ‘serious’ exhibition, and his work is feels fresher and more immediate as a consequence.
It is also great to see displayed a test piece for two large plinths that once formed an entrance piece to Ipswich’s Suffolk College. Built in 1961, the college became an extension of the now renowned Ipswich Arts School, and when UCS was established in 2007 from the degree courses run at the college, the old FE buildings were demolished. Thankfully Reynolds’ entrance pieces were left, but as they stretch into the sky they now feel lost of their original purpose. I’ve always admired the planners who decided not to demolish these plinths along with the brutalist 7-story Suffolk College tower, but they now stand largely ignored as they flank a new sports centre built on the old college grounds. Should you visit the exhibition, it is worth taking a short 5 minute walk, (across the UCS car park away from the quayside and under the library), to find these giant concrete totems.
100 Years of Bernard Reynolds runs at UCS Waterfront Gallery until 6 May. Catch it while you can, it comes highly recommended.