Painting Pictures With Words

As we bid a fond farewell to our 'Nostalgia & Progress' illustration show at the end of February, we thought Josie Walsh's delightful reflections on Esme Eve's 'Girl With A Hat' was a perfect pick for our Creative Writing feature this month.

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Staff Picks XI

In our latest 'Staff Picks' feature, Gallery Attendant, Ruth Quinn muses and enthuses about marine painting and its much deserved place in the University's Art Collection.

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A Spotlight on Public Art on Campus

With the new appointment of Public Art Project Officer Ann Sumner, we begin a new series of monthly posts highlighting the sculptural treasures which await discovery on the University of Leeds campus.

Man Made Fibres by Mitzi Cunliffe, 1955 - 6, Clothworkers Building South, University of Leeds Campus

'Sculpture must again be made accessible' wrote the extraordinary American sculptor Mitzi Solomon Cunliffe in 1950 in Sculpture for Architecture. 'Sculpture withers now in the hot house of galleries and museums for temporary exhibits, catering to a faceless feeble audience of dilettantes and critics,' she continues. Cunliffe wanted to see sculpture 'taken for granted by people as part of the natural environment, the stuff of life'.

It is certainly true to say that many students and staff here at the University of Leeds, as well as visitors onto campus, may overlook her important sculpture Man Made Fibres, for it is situated so high over the entrance on the side of the Clothworkers' Building South. The University's new Public Art Strategy is currently being finalised and in a new approach to curating the unique campus at Leeds, the sculpture will however be highlighted and fully interpreted over the next few years along with the other sculptures situated on campus. The University's public art collection is under the care of The Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery which will be featuring a monthly focus on public art in its e-newsletter and blog and through its social media channels. Each month going forward, a member of staff from the University will explain why a key artwork on campus has special meaning for them. Cunliffe's piece is the first to be selected. This work is particularly appropriate for the month of February as Cunliffe is best known for her design of the famous theatrical mask, the BAFTA award, which she designed during the same period in which she was commissioned to sculpt Man Made Fibres.

The Artist 

Mitzi Solomon Cunliffe (1918 - 2006) was born in New York and attended the Art Students League of New York from 1930 - 1933 before studying fine art at Columbia University from 1935 - 40.  She moved to Paris where she attended the Academie Cobrossi for a year before continuing her studies in Sweden. Her early works were greatly admired by Le Courbusier. In 1949, Cunliffe came to England where she married a British academic and moved to Manchester where her new husband taught at the University. Her first large scale public artworks were commissioned for the Festival of Britain in 1951, on London's South Bank. She was amongst 15 painters and sculptors that produced new work for facades and interiors, six of whom were women. Her most significant piece was Root Bodied Forth, an 8ft concrete group. She also designed a pair of Push and Pull door handles for the Regatta Restaurant. In 1952 she created The Quickening which is now at the School of Civic Design at the University of Liverpool and probably her best known commission was a pierced screen for John Lewis's Department store, also in Liverpool. Her work from this period displays huge optimism about the possibilities of working during a period of reconstruction.

It was in 1955 that she was commissioned to create the now infamous bronze awards for the Guild of Television Producers and Directors; the same year in which she was commissioned to create the work at Leeds University. During the 1960s, Cunliffe turned from creating individual pieces towards mass production with more abstract deigns for casting in concrete. These she described as Sculpture by the Yard, the title of an exhibition which toured widely in Britain and abroad. Her last major commission was 4 panels for the Scottish Life House in London (completed 1970/demolished 2007, panels preserved). The effort involved in creating this work using heavy power tools and working to a strict deadline, was crippling for her physically. Coming just a year after her divorce, it was to be her last work before a career change, turning to teaching, first at Thomas Polytechnic (now South Bank University) and later in New York, Philadelphia and Montreal. She wrote regularly on sculpture and architecture, for instance 'The Possibilities of University Architecture' in Architecture and Building, 1959. In later life, living in Oxford, Cunliffe fell victim to Alzheimer's. She last exhibited in 2001 at Oxford Brookes University in an exhibition for Alzheimer's sufferers entitled Look Closer - See Me. In 1999, a Travelling Scholarship in her name was established at the Ruskin School of Drawing at the University of Oxford.

Mitzi Solomon Cunliffe

The Commission 

In July 1955, having been in discussion with the sculptor for six months beforehand, the University of Leeds commissioned Cunliffe to commission a new sculptural work for the Clothworkers' South Building (then called the Man Made Fibres building.)  Preparatory drawings were submitted in August 1955 and materials agreed by the end of the year, with the Portland stone and turntable required for making, being delivered to her Didsbury studio just before Christmas of the same year. Cunliffe recalls that she started the sculpture on 13 February 1956, having completed all the preparatory maquettes. She worked on the piece for five months and it was installed and unveiled to the public in the summer of 1956. A fee of £2,450 was paid to her by the University. Press interest during the project came from the Manchester Guardian and the London Evening Standard. During her time working on the commission, Cunliffe developed a close working relationship with Professor J B Speakman of the Department of Textile Industries and a large correspondence between the two survives, alongside documentary photographs which are now held in the archive of The Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery. 

The commission coincided with the production of Cunliffe's most famous work, the design for the awards for the Guild of Television Producers & Directors (what we now know as the BAFTAs). On Oct 12 1955, she wrote to Prof Speakman that she was 'enclosing some photos of the tiny 7 inch trophy I have designed for the Guild of Television Producers and Directors, six bronze casts of which were awarded on 10 October. The picture of me is included only to show you the inside-out of the mask, plus the preliminary drawings'. She also inquires as to whether a further commission for a mural is to be progressed or 'has it died a death'? Cunliffe remained engaged with the University of Leeds, maintaining her friendship with the Professor, loaning a bronze maquette in 1961 and recording that in the late 1950s when she was in Leeds she visited the campus at night to see how the piece was weathering. To mark 60 years since the commission, a related display about the commission and this fascinating female artist is scheduled for 2016.

Painting Pictures with Words

Creative writing workshops often take place in the Gallery as part of our Burton Saturdays programme. Read some of the varied outcomes in our new blog feature...

Tony Quipp came to a "stimulating workshop" run by Suzannah Evans at the Gallery a couple of years ago and took some notes on John Currie's workThe Seamstresses. The result is a unique reading of the work in poetic verse. 

The Seamstresses by John Currie

Staff Picks X

In our latest Staff Picks feature, the Gallery's new Exhibition Intern, Helen Butler, writes about a thought provoking work held in the University's Art Collections.

Richard Hamilton, I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas, screenprint on collotype, with collage and wash, 1971

In a 1957 letter, the Pop artist Richard Hamilton describes everyday consumerist culture as 'Popular, Transient, Expendable, Low Cost, Mass Produced, Young, Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous, and Big Business'. In I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas, Hamilton uses a still from the 1954 Bing Crosby movie White Christmas, transferring mainstream material into art: a ritualised sphere that typically stands outside of everyday life.

© R.Hamilton. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2013.

Richard Hamilton, I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmasscreenprint on collotype, with collage and wash, 1971 © R.Hamilton. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2013.

Hamilton made a number of works using this image. His 1967 screenprint I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas features the same frame, yet it appears as a negative. In the Black Christmas screenprint, the colours are reverted back to positive to create a familiar yet strange incarnation of the film still. Hamilton's complicated process from cinematic frame, to etching, to print, switching between positive and negative, hints at the technological trickery of Hollywood movies, yet here, one questions the manufactured reality. The print is edited and filtered through modes of fine art, using techniques such as hand painting and collage. This calls into question the fictitiousness of the movie, which itself relied on processes like lighting, illusionistic settings and colour processing.

Hamilton's work offers an interesting perspective of the effects of an increasingly mass produced, accelerated and technologically centred culture upon artistic production. The form of the copy, rather than being indicative of plagiarism, is seen as an intrinsic and unavoidable condition of contemporary art making in a world of mechanical reproduction. I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas recreates the content of the Bing Crosby still very faithfully, yet does so in a way that it does not ring true. Instead, its de-contextualisation allows for greater reflection upon the mythologised aspects of the media. By elevating a piece of pop culture, Hamilton reveals the desires, values and ideals of contemporary society.

It is worrying to think that our perception of the real is so interconnected with illusionistic media. I find Hamilton's print fascinating because of the uncertainties surrounding its reading. While Hamilton's Pop pieces do not seek to deride or celebrate mass media spectacle, I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas, perhaps ironically, affirms the status of popular culture artefacts. This can be seen to counter the intellectual rejection of popular culture, or perhaps to deliberately provoke by including these references within a piece of art. The title, referring to a 'black Christmas', immediately evokes a sense of unease or cynicism and deliberately counters the romanticised and sentimental nature of the source material. While his choices reflect an admiration of the skill of the filmmaker and recognition of the pleasure this gives society, his work also raises questions surrounding popular culture's manipulative qualities. Full of ambiguity and double-meaning, I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas can reveal a lot about our attitudes towards our own contemporary consumer society.

Illustration has gripped the nation…

…well, The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery at least! Sarah Butler tells us why...

Our new exhibition at The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, Nostalgia & Progress: Illustration After the Second World War marks the third instalment in the Gallery's popular occasional series exploring the history of printing techniques and British book illustration.

Bawden, Ardizzone, Keeping, Dulac, Searle, Hearld, Sutton...the show is a veritable (and visual) feast of big names from the world of illustration both old and new. Over one hundred framed works, ranging from monochrome linocuts through to detailed ink drawings and candy-coloured kitsch screenprints adorn the walls in vibrant constellations.

Whilst technological advances may have changed the way some present-day illustrations have been produced, for example, Matthew the Horse has used an inkjet printer to create his lively Houseplant series, clearly, many of the contemporary artists have been inspired by their illustrious, illustrator forebears. Alice Pattullo's lithograph Whitby Whaling, for example, echoes Edward Bawden's 1950s Brighton Pier both in its jaunty style and seaside subject matter. The shadowy palate favoured by Charles Keeping for his sinister literary illustrations in the 1970s is referenced in Ed Kluz's brooding images of historical buildings drawn on scraperboard.

Whitby Whaling by Alice Patullo, 2013, 4 colour Lithograph produced in collaboration with the Curwen Studio. (c) The Artist
Keywords: Whitby, Whaling, Curwen, Curwen Press, Studio, Print, Alice Pattullo

Alice Pattullo, Whitby Whaling, 2013, 4 colour lithograph produced in collaboration with the Curwen Studio. (c) The Artist

I also find it fascinating how, sixty years on, some illustrators are still employing traditional media and techniques to produce their work. Emily Sutton uses jewel-hued watercolours in her charming book covers in a similar way to Edmund Dulac, who was at his peak in the 1950s.

Who said illustrations were just for books and children? You don't need to be a bibliophile to enjoy this exhibition. Indeed, one of my favourite pieces is the David Gentleman Quayside at Mistley lithograph that greets you as you walk into the display area.

Quayside at Mistley by David Gentleman, Printed at the Curwen Studios, 1966. (c) The Artist

David Gentleman, Quayside at Mistley, 1966, lithograph, printed at the Curwen Studios. (c) The Artist  

There is even an interactive element to the show to satisfy all you budding Bawdens and gadget gurus out there. Combine old-school creativity with cutting-edge technology by drawing a picture, photographing it with our iPad and then decorating your uploaded work on screen. All the images will be added to the Gallery's Flickr account so it's a fantastic opportunity for others to view your masterpiece online.

It's a good job the exhibition doesn't finish until 28 February 2015; with so much delectable artwork to appreciate, I guarantee you'll need more than one visit. 

Staff Picks IX

In our latest ‘Staff Picks,’ Gallery Volunteer and History of Art Student Jasmin Vincent reveals her favourite work of art from the University’s Art Collection.

Memories of Home

Mark Senior, Runswick Bay, Oil on Canvas, c.1924

As a research scholar at the University's History of Art Department, as well as a temporary intern at a local business, my summer months this year were spent here in Leeds and not at home. Naturally I ended up feeling quite homesick, exacerbated by only having one real opportunity to see my family over the break - on a week-long traditional family holiday in Cornwall. It is the memory of this holiday that springs to mind now when I look at Mark Senior's beautiful landscape painting of Yorkshire's Runswick Bay; stirring fond memories of a similar beach that I have visited, nearly every summer growing up, whilst holidaying in Cornwall.

Mark Senior, Runswick Bay, c.1924

Mark Senior, Runswick Bay, oil on canvas, c.1924, Image (c) The University of Leeds Art Collection 

The beauty of this painting is that it really does capture, perfectly, that typical British beach scene. Though distinctive, with its dramatic Yorkshire moorland coast, for me, it in fact evokes a childhood memory of many a family trip to the beaches of Cornwall. It is recognisable and familiar and is easy to look at. Put simply, it feels homely.

Senior's style is modest and draws on the idea of natural realism and the tradition of plein air painting. The simplicity of this approach towards his subject matter is what makes it captivating, what makes it feel as if one is looking directly into a memory. Instead of focusing on detail, there is a vitality of colour and texture that add to the whole, heightening the senses as if trying literally to capture the sights and smells of what lies before you. His fluid, painterly strokes are simple and non-distracting. And the use of bright colours evokes summertime, holiday happiness.

The composition of the work is simple and highly emotive too: the strongly coloured foreground figures capture the eye, before the viewer's gaze is drawn towards the diagonal line of the beach huts, and then beyond and out along the coastline. This manipulation of composition, texture and use of colour produces a scene that conceals much within a haze of green moorland, yellow sand, blue sea and the occasional blurred figure. Just like one's memory would capture, and later recall, colours, shapes and little aspects of detail to create a whole, more general picture.

It is because of how typically British this painting appears - right down to the neat row of the beach huts - that makes it so open to be interpreted as a memory of a beach in Britain, any beach in Britain. It is just that connectivity to happy memories that makes it so easy to look at. When I see it I am drawn back to the smell of the sea and the salt in the wind. Paintings like this that can stimulate my memory so powerfully, often allow me to escape into a happy memory, away from everything else. The fact that art can do that is why I enjoy studying it so much. It's a great talent to recreate a memory and the emotions with it. I am content and nostalgic when I see this painting, and it is for that reason I'm so glad to be able to see in within the University's collection when I am so far from my home and family. To have, in easy reach, a painting that makes visual, such a fond and personal memory and offers a place to retreat, stop and just remember home for a moment, amongst the bustling Uni life in Leeds, is truly special indeed.

An Unlikely Champion. Quentin Bell by Sarah Butler

With the opening of our new display in the Education Room - 'Sir Herbert Read's Artistic Alliances' gallery team member Sarah Butler takes a look at the life and work one of his close acquaintances, Quentin Bell.

I don't mean to gloat but there are often times when I love my job. In preparation for an upcoming exhibition in the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, I was asked to research the poet/author/critic and all round polymath, Sir Herbert Read. Sifting through a box of correspondence between Read and some of his many famous friends in the arts, I stumbled upon a letter from Quentin Bell. Not only was Bell renowned in his own right for being an eminent teacher, artist and author but his family connections were astonishing, especially for a bibliophile and Bloomsbury Group fan like me! Son of artist, Vanessa Bell and art critic Clive Bell, Quentin was also the nephew of Virginia Woolf, about whom he wrote a critically acclaimed biography. In 1916, aged 6 years old, he moved to Charleston, the home and country meeting place of the Bloomsbury Group, with his mother and older brother, Julian. This breeding ground of creativity, intellectualism and liberalism provided inspiration and a sporadic home for Bell until he married in 1952. Quentin's education was equally unconventional: he attended Peterborough Lodge, Hampstead, and later went to Leighton Park School in Reading, an independent Quaker school. He also studied painting in Paris, pottery in Staffordshire and collaborated with his mother and Duncan Grant on decorating a local church during the Second World War following his exemption from military service due to a past history of T.B.

Bell came to Leeds with his family in 1959 after being appointed Professor of Fine Art at the University. His letter to Read was written in 1967 soon after Bell and his family had moved back to his native Sussex. As I skimmed through Bell's spidery scrawl, his remarks about Yorkshire caught my eye and gave me goosebumps of delight. Amidst general pleasantries, Bell rather sweetly admits that his children now "regard themselves as Leodensians and disapprove of the South". As a Leeds lass born and bred, you can imagine this confession was music to my ears! He goes on to say that "Leeds and Yorkshire have a quality and character which makes me regret leaving them" - something I can relate to, as I went to University in another city.

Bell died in 1996 but his legacy lives on in the literature and art he produced and the pieces he acquired for the University of Leeds' art collection, now called The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery. A treasure trove of mainly contemporary art, with the odd 17th, 18th and 19th century masterpiece thrown in, the Gallery is free and open to the public, Monday to Saturday.


Round Plate, Draped Figure: Head and Shoulders of a Woman by Quentin Bell
Quentin Bell, 'Round Plate, Draped Figure: Head and Shoulders of a Woman' 1982. © Olivier Bell, Image © The University of Leeds Art Collection

Herbert Read's Artistic Alliances. Exhibition at The Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery.

1 September - 20 October 2014

The Brotherton Library's Special Collections at the University of Leeds holds the 14,000-volume library of the poet, art historian, critic and anarchist Sir Herbert Read (1893-1968).

The collection contains many published titles by Read himself, with volumes of his poetry including Naked Warriors, as well as first and later editions of his critical works such as A Concise History of Modern Painting. The Library also holds Read's archive, including artworks, photographs, extensive correspondence with artists, and the original manuscript of his only novel, The Green Child.

With his strong associations and friendships with contemporary British and European artists, Read exchanged a great deal of correspondence with some of the major cultural figures of the mid-twentieth century. The 1930s and 40s was a time of great experimentation in British and European art, when many artists, writers and poets shared creative and political views.

This exhibition draws upon some of the letters and greetings cards Read sent and received to highlight the close relationships he forged with many famous artists, including Sir Henry Moore, Dame Barbara Hepworth and Quentin Bell, and the affection his contemporaries held him in.

A number of these were given to Read personally by individual artists. Often a note or additional drawing has been added to artists' books or created specifically from a greetings card especially for Read, emphasising the artists' admiration and affection for this leading authority on contemporary art.


Competition Alert!

Three days and counting until the FUAM Graduate Art Prize Exhibition 2014 opens!... Let's celebrate with a competition!

Spotted one of our posters yet!?....The FUAM Graduate Art Prize Poster Competition


Out and about in Leeds? If you spot one of our posters then take a snap of it, let us know where you've seen it and you could be one of five lucky winners selected to win a Gallery Goody Bag (complete with Beer, Books and of course the all important Gallery Pencil!)...

The first 5 photos sent in will win! What are you waiting for!?

Tweet us! At @sabgallery or Facebook us!

Please note: Due to the nature of the prize, entrants must be 18 years or older.



Staff Picks VIII

For our newest 'Staff Picks' installment, Special Collections researcher Rhiannon Lawrence-Francis reveals her favourite work from the University's art collection.

Augustus Edwin John, Welsh Landscape, Oil on board, c.1911-1914

Rhiannon Lawrence-Francis works in Special Collections in the University Library and is currently undertaking a project to examine and describe the unique features of the incunabula, that is, books printed in Europe before 1501. She grew up in North Wales and still spends all her free weekends in the mountains.

Augustus John, Welsh Landscape, c.1911-14

© The Estate of Augustus Edwin John. All Rights Reserved 2013 / Bridgeman Art Library


Welsh Landscape by Augustus John is the painting I would most like to see on permanent display in the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery.

This painting of Arenig Fawr is one of the many Augustus John produced of a single mountain in Meirionnydd when he lived and worked there with fellow Welshman James Dickson Innes and Australian-born Derwent Lees just after the end of the first decade of the twentieth century.

Together they pioneered a revolutionary style of "automatic" painting, striding out into the landscape and seeking to capture it at the precise moment when sun, shadow, light and shade were are their most striking, creating an image of, and in, that instant, often in great haste, until the light and colours shifted and the scene lost that which had made it magical. This feverish creative method took its toll. Lees went mad and Innes was on a path to self-destruction that saw him dead at the age of twenty-seven.

What at first seems to be a straightforward depiction of a grassy hillside and rock outcrops above marsh ground on a sunny day seems to me to encapsulate the essence of the Welsh mountain landscape and its fleeting moods. Despite the blue sky, behind the painter there is doubtless a bank of dark cloud hurrying which will alter the light and make him put down his brushes, or perhaps even motivate him to begin another very different painting. But the image also seems to capture that certain and difficult-to-define sense of "hiraeth", a Welsh word that has no direct English translation, but can be said to encompass feelings of longing and wistfulness, a sort of need to belong to a landscape and land that is changing.