Spotlight on Public Art - Autumn Selection

To herald the start of the new academic year, University of Leeds Vice Chancellor, Sir Alan Langlands reflects on his favourite public artwork.

Cropped image of Chattaway's Hermes

Image: William Chattaway, The Spirit of Enterprise/Hermes, 1958, bronze, image © University of Leeds

William Chattaway's twenty foot bronze of Hermes is positioned high on the east wall of the Roger Stevens building above a large reflecting pool with fountains. It sits well with Chamberlin, Powell and Bon's modernist interpretation of what a University should look like; and it is the best example on campus of how public art can change and adapt to new settings and new audiences, creating fresh dialogues with its environment.

The back story appeals to me.  Chattaway's work was originally commissioned by the Midland Bank for their London headquarters, we think in the late 1950s. Chattaway called it Hermes but the bank suggested that the work should be renamed the Spirit of Enterprise because the Greek god Hermes "had a number of roles, including that of the guardian of less desirable characters".  More recent events suggest that the bank was right to be concerned about such malign influences!

Stanley Burton, a long-time supporter of the University and friend of the artist, made the inspired decision to rescue Hermes when the Midland building was sold to developers.  I imagine that Hermes - the protector and patron of herdsmen, thieves, oratory and wit, literature and poetry, athletics and sports, invention and trade, roads, boundaries and travellers - is happy in his new setting. He is a relatively young Olympian god concerned with transitions and he has the ability to move quickly and freely across boundaries.  Leaving thieves to one side, I am certain that he is much happier in our University than he ever was at a bank.

The University is committed to public art and the new campus art map makes the campus tour easy and enjoyable. Public Art will also feature on the new University of Leeds website map, which goes live on 12 October. As you follow the trail, visit the website or simply go about your normal business, keep an eye out for Hermes and rejoice in the fact that he is happy here, inspiring many aspects of University life, not least our commitment to food security, culture, sport, transport and enterprise.

The Public Art Project is supported by a full programme of events. Highlights coming up include a talk on Chattaway's 'Hermes' on 14 October. To see the programme in full, follow this link:

A Fond Farewell!

MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies student Sarah Ledjmi was Public Art Intern from April to September 2015. She is now looking forward to starting a new job as Collections and Exhibitions Assistant at the National Media Museum in Bradford.

Sarah L's blog photo

Summertime is usually the quietest period of the year for the university and its students, but my summer on campus was truly eventful. I have climbed up university buildings, (almost) broken into constructions sites, spied on countless meetings and met a small bunch of very enthusiastic artists, poets and art aficionados. All in the name of Public Art!

I joined the Public Art project as an intern in April 2015, and had the opportunity to witness the beginning of the implementation of a new Public Art strategy at the University of Leeds. As a student of the University, I had walked past many of the public artworks on campus without giving them a second look, and I am genuinely happy to have had the chance to engage with the campus landscape at a different level. I became intrigued and excited by the sculptures and their stories, and eventually decided to dedicate my Masters' dissertation to them. Despite being sometimes overlooked, the campus artworks contribute to the construction of the university, not only as a physical space but also as a place to meet, sit and talk. 

During the summer, I have worked with the Public Art Officer Professor Ann Sumner, who launched the art trail and the installation of interpretation panels near the sculptures. I am delighted to have contributed to making the artworks more accessible, and I look forward to seeing more interpretation and engagement with art on campus in the future - with dance, tai-chi, poetry and so much more to come.  I know that Ann, the team at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery and the new intern Emily will continue to enliven the campus and encourage exciting and surprising encounters with art.  

Spotlight on Public Art

This month's 'Spotlight' sees multi award-winning poet and Douglas Caster Cultural Fellow, Dr Helen Mort, reflect on her poetic response to Lorna Green's 'Meet, Sit and Talk' (1995).

Helen Mort reading aloud from Lorna Green's work

As a poet, I've often been asked to respond to works of art and produce new ekphrastic pieces - in the past, I've written about photography, the work of Giovanni Batista Piranesi and produced a poem inspired by the paintings of contemporary artist Tom de Freston. For the Public Art project in Leeds , I've enjoyed the new challenge of responding to works that are 3D, from Simon Fujiwara's Aspire to Lorna Green's Meet, Sit and Talk. When I respond to paintings and photographs, I tend to invent a narrative. Sculptures challenge that tendency, inviting the writer to connect more directly with their form.

I am a keen amateur rock climber, so I was immediately drawn to Lorna's sculptural pieces in Chancellor's Court - there's something organic about them but also something very striking, very crafted. The stones she chose and arranged offer a natural kind of theatre in the middle of the University, inviting people to sit, climb, stand and lean on them as well as look. I imagined that the stones had been there forever, having their own conversations and wrote a short poem in what I dreamed to be their voices.

On Wednesday 19th of June, I had the pleasure of revisiting Lorna's work with her as part of the Summer of Public Art talks, hearing about the history of the artwork and the installation process, from quarry to court. I read my piece standing on top of one of the stones, and the others formed a patient audience, along with the event attendees.

Poetry Response - Meet, Sit and Talk

Our conversation has outlasted

grass, outlasted ground.

Stones talk and landscape overhears.

See for yourself. Sit down

and tell us what you know.

Lie in our scattered company

and watch our silence


Dr Helen Mort, Douglas Caster Cultural Fellow

Image: Dr Helen Mort reading her poem aloud from Lorna Green's sculpture, Meet, Sit and Talk (1995).

Review: Public Art Shorts!

Public Art Project Intern, Sarah Ledjmi, reflects on Lorna Green's 'Artist's Talk' and the success of our summer series of lunchtime events.

Lorna Green, Meet, Sit and Talk, Conversation, 1995 -1999

Image: Lorna Green, Meet, Sit and Talk, Conversation, 1995-1999, sandstone, polished granite, gravel, grass, cement, image © University of Leeds 

The talk started at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery, with a good rummage through the photographs, original plans and maps of Lorna Green's wide scale project. In 1995, Green was commissioned to redesign the Chancellor's Court area. The 'before and after' pictures show how the area was transformed from a bleak and windswept 'no man's land' to the verdant path with its three garden islands that we now know. 

Lorna then led the way to Chancellor's Court, and discussed the inspiration behind her sculpture Meet, Sit and Talk. The boulders were sourced from a local quarry, modified with polished granite, and Lorna created the three stone circles that are still standing today. Our gathering among the stones was the perfect opportunity for poet Helen Mort to read the poem she wrote in response to the sculpture, perched on one of the boulders. Enthused by Helen's poem, Lorna enrolled the audience in a quest for a missing stone: a herb garden will soon be added to the area, and some of Lorna's stones have been moved during the works. We found the stray boulder in a construction site, under blue tarpaulin and guarded by two friendly workers. 

We finished our adventure by Lorna's second sculpture, Conversation. The three standing stones are huddled together, but there is space for one more in the middle. We stepped inside in turn, making a trio into a quartet and joined the silent conversation.  

Lorna's and Helen's creativity has already inspired a member of the audience to write their own poem after our lunchtime odyssey. This was a truly fitting way to end our summer programme, and it paves the way for our exciting, upcoming 'Autumn of Public Art'.

Spotlight on Public Art

This month, Professor Ann Sumner of the Public Art Project selects her favourite Public Art work on campus for our spotlight section.

Limbo by Austin Wright

Image: Austin Wright (1911 - 1997), Limbo, 1958, Concrete and lead, Baines Wing Coffee Bar Courtyard. Presented by the Austin Wright Trust through the Art Fund, 2014.

"I first came across Austin Wright's work when I was Head of Fine Art at the National Museum of Wales from 2000 - 2007. There we acquired a work called News in 2002 and in 2006 a series of lead Limbo figures were donated by Lisbeth David.  I remember reading James Hamilton's excellent book The Sculpture of Austin Wright and being enormously impressed by Wright's sculpture and then seeing the York exhibition in 2011.  So I was delighted, when I arrived here at the University of Leeds, to hear that Wright's subtle work Limbo of 1958 had recently been presented by the Austin Wright Trust through the Art Fund and installed in the Baines Wing Coffee Bar.

The work is inspired by family seaside holidays in Anglesey and Cornwall in the 1950s and the figures in this piece relate to sketches made at Praa, a long sandy stretch of beach between the Lizard and West Penwith in South West Cornwall.  It reminded me at once of my own family holidays on that same beach in the 1960s, often sheltering in the dunes to avoid the wind!  This sculpture reflects happy holiday time spent in Cornwall for the Wright family. It was for many years situated in an intimate garden setting.  Now it is transformed into a piece of Public Art on the University of Leeds campus, with an interpretative label, admired by visitors to campus and those sipping coffee and tea in the pleasant atmosphere of the Baines Wing Coffee Bar Courtyard.  As part of the Public Art Project, I approached Linda France, Creative Writing Fellow at the University of Leeds, to write a poem responding to Limbo and her work can be found in the new Public Art Trail."

Spotlight on Public Art

In this month's 'Spotlight', Curator Layla Bloom explores the significance of our inspiring new public artwork, 'A Spire', by Simon Fujiwara.

Simon Fujiwara, A Spire (4 views)

Image: Simon Fujiwara, 'A Spire' (4 views), 2015, cast jesmonite (c) The Artist

On 11 June, following a lively symposium, 'Curating the Campus,' Sir Alan Langlands formally launched the University's newest public art work, alongside the artist, Simon Fujiwara, at the Laidlaw Library.

Fujiwara's piece, 'A Spire', is a skyward timeline of Leeds innovation - from its coal-dusted industrial roots, through to the organic forms of modern technology. Lichen and vine forms wind their way up to the top of the work, which culminates in a green roof (not yet visible!) which should begin to grow and overhang the work in time. The chimney form, flanked by two church spires, and overlooked by Parkinson clocktower, reflects not only Leeds's history as the 'city of 100 chimneys' but also signals that the library building it adorns is furnace of learning for our undergraduate students.

The British-Japanese artist Simon Fujiwara is already known in Leeds for his work recently acquired for Leeds Art Gallery, 'Rebekkah'. Fujiwara developed 'A Spire' after several research visits to the University of Leeds, where he met staff and researchers, and explored current research projects in subjects as diverse as plant biology and robotics. A small display in the Gallery over the summer shows Fujiwara's process in creating the piece.

Poet Helen Mort, the University's Douglas Caster Cultural Fellow, read her 4-part poem 'Spires', which was commissioned for the launch of the new sculpture. Mort has also written poems for 'The Dreamer' and 'Meet, Sit and Talk', which you can read in our Public Art Trail, available at the Gallery. If you, too, feel inspired, we welcome your poetic responses to our public art for inclusion in next year's Trail!

When Public Art Met Martial Arts...

We turned a few heads and became minor celebrities on campus during our outdoor Tai Chi session on Saturday. Lots of jaws dropped, photos were taken and some passersby even joined in!

Thankfully, the weather was kind to us so we could focus on our 'qigong' in the peaceful surroundings of Beechgrove Plaza.

As you can see from the pictures, Keith Wilson's 'Sign for Art (Stelae 2014)' provided the perfect backdrop to our workshop. The wiggly lines mirrored the fluidity of our moves and gave us a good focal point.

Our tutor Maria was an absolute star. She taught us the basic steps of Stage 1 Tai Chi and then once we were all limbered up, we enjoyed authentic Chinese refreshments, courtesy of the Business Confucius Institute at the University of Leeds, inside Parkinson Court.

Photo of Tai Chi Session

Photo of people enjoying Chinese refreshments

Final farewell to Morland!

Our Exhibitions Intern, Helen Butler, reflects on her involvement with and the success of 'George Morland: In The Margins' in this thoughtful review.

Old Red Lion Inn, George Morland

Image: George Morland, Old Red Lion Inn, c.1790, oil on canvas. (c) The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery

As we bid goodbye to our George Morland exhibition and as the loaned works travel back to their permanent collections, we can reflect upon the process of bringing together a comprehensive exhibition, the first in 40 years, of this often forgotten painter.

The exhibition offered vivid insights into societal conditions of late 18th century England. Even though Morland is perhaps best remembered as a painter of animals and countryside scenes, our guest curator Dr Nick Grindle (UCL), focused the exhibition upon depictions of the marginalised in society. Many of Morland's representations of smugglers, gypsies, travellers, farm-hands and thieves are treated with a sense of realism and a non-moralistic tone that wealthy art patrons of the time saw as distasteful.

Morland himself was no stranger to life on the margins, keeping company with his subjects and suffering from crippling debt and alcoholism.

We became immersed even further into the life and works of Morland through our symposium day in April, bringing together academics from many specialisms to delve into Morland's preoccupations and his own fascinating character. The Gallery has also been host to special performances from the University's Performance and Cultural Industries students, who revealed the stark similarities between Morland's impression of marginalised groups and the realities and prejudices of our own society.

Public Art Shorts! Double Bill

In this week's Public Art Shorts!, Professor Ann Sumner and Public Art Project Intern, Sarah Ledjmi will be chatting about Chattaway!

You will be introduced to the majestic 'Walking Figure' (1989) in Parkinson Court, followed by the striking 'Hermes' (1958) which hangs, mid-flight, on the east wall of the Roger Stevens building.

Did you know that these public artworks were rescued by our philanthropic patron, Stanley Burton?

'Walking Figure' originally stood in Bodington Hall, a former student residence, however, students being students, the work was badly damaged.  Burton asked William Chattaway to recast the sculpture (now in Parkinson Court) and offered shelter to the original in his own garden.

As for poor 'Hermes', he was a commission by the Midland Bank. They wanted to sell him for scrap when their London building was sold. Such was the Bank's disregard for the sculpture, they even rechristened him 'The Spirit of Enterprise',  as Hermes is the Greek god of thieves! Stanley Burton volunteered the funds to allow the University to purchase Chattaway's piece. As soon as the sculpture was on campus, his name reverted back to the original 'Hermes'.

Meet just outside the Gallery at 12.45pm this Wednesday 22 July to discover even more about these two important artworks.

Walking Figure


We have our eyes on the prize!

The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery has been shortlisted for one of the country’s most valuable contemporary art awards.

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