Tom McGuinness 1926- 2006
Born in Witton Park, three miles from Bishop Auckland, Tom McGuinness was conscripted into the coal industry as part of the War effort in 1944. He remained in mining for 39 years until he was made redundant in 1983, having worked in many of County Durham’s collieries and experienced various conditions and practices. McGuinness’s talent was first spotted by his manager when drawing in chalk on a coal tub and he was encouraged to attend night classes at the Darlington School of Art. A major influence on his work was Gill Harman, art tutor at Durham University Extra-Mural Department which he attended in the 1960s. She taught McGuinness the importance of learning art history alongside practical skills.
McGuinness’s work contained strong political, sociological and religious commentary. Central to his art was the depiction of the realities of life underground; the dark, claustrophobic and filthy conditions in which miners were often unable to stand upright. Though talented at figure drawing, McGuinness developed an expressionist style of his own often characterised by hunched, distorted figures. He used strong colours and warped imagery to convey the depth of emotion felt during his own experiences as a miner; points of luminous colour were employed to underline the pure dark of a mine shaft. He encompassed various media including sketches, oils, printmaking and stained glass, an example of which can be seen in the Town Hall’s library.