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“It’s not just what you can see, I hope it’s what you can feel as well”[1] (Tom McGuinness)

Miner by Tom McGuinness,1954 (Oil on canvas)

Tom McGuiness was born just outside Bishop Auckland into a coal mining family and worked as a miner, in the local area, for most of his life. His talent for drawing was recognised and encouraged at school, and again when he began working as a miner. McGuinness sketched at every available opportunity and, on seeing him draw on the side of a coal tub, his mining shift supervisor suggested he attend art classes.

McGuinness enrolled at Darlington School of Art, cycling the 12 miles to study there four nights a week, after a long shift underground. He then briefly joined the Spennymore settlement – a pioneering local initiative where ordinary working-class people could improve their education and learn new practical and creative skills. His work began to gain recognition and a career as a professional artist beckoned, but he felt compelled to return to work in the mines.

When not at work, McGuinness spent nearly all of his spare time drawing and painting. Each activity seemed to enrich the other, as he captured daily life in a mining community and the harsh realities of working underground. What he saw he also felt; what he painted he experienced, and this translated into his artwork, giving it a rich depth and intensity. Tom liked to experiment with different media and his later works included etchings and prints.

In this portrait of a miner, McGuinness seems to capture the subject’s physical strength while, at the same time, suggesting a sense of weariness and thoughtfulness. The man’s shoulders are rounded, which is typical of the way McGuinness depicted miners in his paintings – as if they were permanently shaped by their work underground. At this time, McGuinness often used strong colours in his work. This is reflected here in the rich flash of red of the miner’s shirt, and the bright blue of his trousers.

See more works by Tom McGuinness here

[1] The Journal article: Nostalgia: Reputation grows for artist Tom McGuinness

Our Tees Valley Museums Local Art and Artists: Activities is available to download here


Image courtesy of Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA) part of Teesside University