British sculptor, born at Banbridge, County Down. He studied drawing at the Slade School, 1928–31, and in 1931–2 lived in Paris, where a visit to Brancusi's studio fired his imagination and led to his taking up sculpture in 1933. His early work was influenced by the playful biomorphic forms of Arp and in 1938 he joined the English Surrealist group. The special characteristic of his early sculpture was the combination of smooth modelling with fragmented incomplete figures, as with his wood carving Profile (1940, Tate). After the Second World War (during which he served in the RAF) McWilliam's work moved away from Surrealism to a more rugged style, sometimes in the ‘existentialist’ vein associated with Kenneth Armitage and Lynn Chadwick (see Geometry of Fear), although he also did fairly straightforwardly naturalistic figures, as in his statue of the sculptor Elisabeth Frink (1956, Harlow New Town), one of the many public commissions he received. He always retained links with his native Ireland, although he seldom returned. His early life there gave him ‘a lasting awareness and hatred of intolerance and religious bigotry’, and in 1972–3 he made a series of bronze figures entitled Women of Belfast inspired by the city's political troubles: ‘The sculptures are concerned with violence, with one particular aspect—bomb blast—the woman as victim of man's stupidity. I did not choose the subject consciously; it happened, I suppose, because the situation in Ulster is inescapable, even at this safe remove, something that is always nagging at the back of one's mind.’ As well as bronze, McWilliam worked in stone, concrete, and terracotta. From 1947 to 1968 he taught at the Slade School.
From A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art in Oxford Reference.