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Mining Review 25/9: Tom McGuinness (1972)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

The commentary doubles as a synopsis and has therefore been reproduced in full:

Cork Street, in London's West End. Two years' work culminates in the first London exhibition of an artist already well known in the north of England. Pictures of mining village life which are to attract praise from hardened London critics go up on the gallery walls as opening day nears. Within minutes of the official opening, not a single picture was to remain unsold.

Tom McGuinness's work reflects the familiar world of the Durham mining community where he was born and bred and where he still lives. A miner as well as an artist, Tom spends his leisure time roaming the streets he knows so well, absorbing fresh insight into their meaning through an artist's eye.

This is Bishop Auckland. It's the legacy of a past century. It's texture and history that Tom translates as he makes his first sketch of a fresh subject. The hoardings reflect our changing times in their messages, but the steep streets are timeless, waiting their turn to be captured on canvas. Tom's people are tall and gaunt, complementing the background in which he places them. The wider outdoors attracts Tom too, and the pastimes which have become a tradition among all British mining folk.

Much of Tom's work leads inevitably to the pithead, louring over the villages and their people. Tom himself is still drawn to the pit. He works as a development man underground at Fishbone Colliery. He's recaptured in oils often enough his daily walk to the mine. Five shifts a week underground don't leave him all the time he'd like for painting. But even as he gets ready to ride the rope, he's storing up new images to be reflected in his paintings.

Tom McGuinness is a mining craftsman as well as an artist, and he's a family man who gets out into the Durham countryside with his children and, always, with his sketchbook. His art mirrors the whole range and scale of the pitman's life, and the interests of a man who has been brought up in a marvellously varied school of disciplines.

Back at home in the familiar terrace-end house in Short Street, Tom goes straight to his studio. His main love is to work in oils, perhaps for the texture it allows him to achieve to alleviate the harshness of his subjects. He's a man who sees his surroundings through incisive and individual eyes.

Those who flocked to his London show were privileged to enter into a world far removed from their own. Lord Robens, former chairman of the Coal Board, was a guest of honour. Industry and the arts join in paying tribute to this significant artist-miner. The formal opening night photos were taken, but the images of Tom McGuinness will endure longer than those on celluloid. They are the images of a community of the past and the present, with a vitality which is an essential part of our national life.