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.

Read full article...

Staff Picks XV

Summer is upon us so what better way to embrace the sunshine than with Customer Services and Special Collections Assistant, Helen Price's dazzling 'Staff Pick'?

Birds by Norman Adams

 Image: Norman Adams, Birds, 1971, acrylic and crayon, (c) Estate of the Artist 

I love colour, and Norman Adams' Birds is an absolute masterpiece of colour and vibrancy. The gold, yellows and blues simultaneously burst out of the screen while also drawing your eye inwards to the centre. The shimmering gold and splashes of orange in the top right-hand corner crackle like solar flares and produce a warmth which tantalises the senses we might not normally associated with visual art.   

The colours work with the squiggled lines to form the impressionistic image of individual birds in flight. The effect creates a wonderful sense of movement and captures the exhilarating action of flocking birds. It is as though you are looking into a kaleidoscope which gradually turns, shifting its colours and patterns with each rotation of the lens.

The shapes of the birds also resemble ripples on water. As your eyes are drawn to the centre of the image, the peripheries morph into an aquatic scene. All of a sudden you are gazing into the dark blue depth of a deep ocean, while, on the edges, the sun's rays gently illuminate the surface water.   

Norman Adams had a keen interest in the effect of perspective in visual art. He was known to be a fan of the trompe l'oeil technique, where the eye is deceived into thinking a two dimensional image is three dimensional. Adams' Birds does not specifically employ this technique, in fact, the dark blue straight lines towards the edges of the painting seem to frame the image and serve as a reminder that this is a two dimensional work of art. At the same time, the painting works to break through the two dimensional barrier. The birds are not confined by these lines and seem to traverse effortlessly across them. To me, it is wonderfully easy to imagine these birds continuing their flight, freeing themselves from the painting and soaring out into the space beyond.  

Public Poetry Please!

"Among the brightest stars in the sparkling new constellation of British poets”...we couldn't agree more with Carol Ann Duffy's praise of Helen Mort, the Derbyshire Poet Laureate and current Douglas Caster Cultural Fellow at the University of Leeds.

Five-times winner of the Foyle Young Poets award, Helen received an Eric Gregory Award from The Society of Authors in 2007 and won the Manchester Young Writer Prize in 2008. In 2010, she became the youngest ever poet in residence at The Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere.

We're delighted to welcome Helen to the Gallery this Thursday evening where she will discuss her involvement in the Public Art Project at the University of Leeds and read her poems inspired by the art work. 

For more information about this rising star of British poetry, visit her website:

For information about how to book on this unique event, please visit:

'Curating the Campus' Symposium: A Review

On Thursday 11 June, we formally launched the University of Leeds' Public Art Strategy and celebrated the new Simon Fujiwara sculpture 'A Spire' with an inspiring symposium.

On Thursday 11 June, we formally launched the University of Leeds Public Art Strategy and celebrated the new Simon Fujiwara sculpture A Spire outside the Laidlaw Library, with an inspiring 'Curating' the Campus symposium.  

Audience questions

Speakers from universities throughout the UK gathered together in the grand Nathan Bodington Chamber. Dr Stella Butler welcomed delegates and the keynote address by Professor Sumner outlined the background to the new Public Art Strategy and Project.  She spoke about the new Cultural Institute to be launched in October, as well as pointing out that campus redevelopments, involving increased pedestrianisation and new planning regulations supporting public art, were key drivers behind forming a strategy at Leeds. Ann also outlined the benchmarking she had carried out nationally and internationally before developing the new Public Art Trail map which draws attention to student degree show interventions on campus.  Each year she proposed that the campus would be curated with a key theme - 'Place-making' in 2015 and 'Textiles' in 2016, as the University prepares to celebrate Mitzi Cunliffe's Man-made Fibres sculpture's 60th anniversary.

There followed a series of excellent presentations about programming and commissioning  at Loughborough University, Newcastle University, and the University of Birmingham, as well as an in depth survey of University Public Art Strategies by Dr Sian Vaughn of Birmingham City University.  Topics covered identity and placemaking on campus, public art as a reflection of University research, the enhancement of University cultural life, the long term curation and care of public art, and crucially, the engagement with wider communities beyond the campus, opening up spaces and creating welcoming places to visit.  

Two fascinating 'in conversation' sessions also took place. Public Art Project Placement student Sarah Ledjmi discussed the student response to public art with sculptor Keith Wilson, whose Sign for Art was unveiled in the autumn of 2014. Shortly afterwards, Lisa Le Feuvre, Head of Sculpture Studies at The Henry Moore Institute, interviewed Simon Fujiwara about his first public art commission and experience of working with a university.  Finally, there was a debate about how students and campus communities could be involved in the commissioning process for future public art by setting up unique dialogues. 

The Symposium closed with the debut reading of a poem by the Douglas Caster Cultural Fellow, poet Helen Mort, inspired by Simon Fujiwara's A Spire. After a thought-provoking day of discussion, Professor David Cooper summarised the day and thanked all for their contribution before inviting everyone to the Private View of the display of Simon Fujiwara's work in the Gallery.

Public Art Shorts!

Professor Ann Sumner is proud to present our series of lunchtime talks about Public Art on the University campus.

A Chair is a Difficult ThingOn Monday 15 June, the nation celebrated Hew Locke's major public artwork 'The Jurors' (formed of 12 bronze chairs) at Runnymeade to mark the Magna Carta commemorations. We were also jubilant and championing chairs at the University of Leeds following the launch of our Summer of Public Art short lunchtime talks.

First up, we had student Sam Judd speaking about his new campus artwork 'A Chair is a Difficult Thing'. Sam gave a brilliant talk on functional sculpture with many of his audience sitting on his piece, as they listened to his engaging presentation. He spoke of the influences on his art such as the American artist, Donald Judd and the integrity of objects such as chairs, as well as the history of the chairs in his piece.

His title is drawn from a quote by Ludwig Mies van der Roche, the third and last Bauhaus director. Sam is a final year Art and Design student and this piece is part of the degree show 2015. It is included in the new Public Art Campus Trail under 'Student Interventions' and can be found around the silver birch tree in front of no 18, Beech Grove Terrace.

Summer of Symposiums!

Following the success of our George Morland symposium last week, the Gallery is gearing up for another full day study day next Thursday 11 June.

Fujiwara at Work

Image: Simon Fujiwara at work, © Simon Fujiwara

We're looking forward to welcoming academics and curators from the Universities of Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle and Warwick as they share how they have successfully curated Public Art on their respective campuses. 

The day will also include short 'Art on Campus' tours, interviews with two internationally renowned artists, Keith Wilson and Simon Fujiwara, whose sculpture enlivens the outdoor landscape of the University, and a short exhibition of Fujiwara's work within the Gallery.

For more details and for information on how to book, visit our Events pages.