A Night to Remember

“Excellent”. “So professional”. “Brilliant – moving and thought-provoking”. Just a few of the comments from our enthralled visitors who enjoyed 'Peripherals - Life on the Modern Margins', the PCI students’ performance and installation piece.

Student performance at Museum at Night 2015

Greeting their audience outside the Gallery with a cupcake, a few suit-clad students led visitors to the George Morland exhibition space, in which they had hung smaller versions of Morland's works on easels. At each 'station', a confident, upper-class character enthused about how wonderful their life was while a homeless or outcast individual scrabbled around close by, cold, hungry and desperate. For me, the most powerful performance involved a young 'prostitute' applying her make-up alongside the portrait Easy Money whilst a sharply dressed man recounted how she was a victim of trafficking.

Another word-perfect recital involved a 'Gypsy' girl lamenting about the prejudices faced by Travellers as she stood in front of a Council Official wading through a mountain of Eviction documents.

The entire script, brim full of clever half-rhyme and rich description, was produced by the students and flawlessly delivered.

Learn more about the man who inspired their performance by attending our free, one day George Morland Symposium next Friday 29 May. See our website for more details: https://library.leeds.ac.uk/events/410/event/295/

A Spotlight on Public Art

Dr Adam Strickson, Teaching Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of Leeds reflects on William Chattaway's 'Hermes' in this month's Public Art on Campus staff pick.

William Chattaway, Hermes Image (c) The University of LeedsImage: William Chattaway (1927), Hermes/The Spirit of Enterprise, 1958, Bronze, Gift of Stanley Burton, 1983, Image ©University of Leeds

William Chattaway's Hermes, mounted high on the concrete cliff of the Roger Stevens Building, takes time to get to know, to work out and respond to. It's abstract when seen from the side if you walk beyond Mathematics down to the fountains, negotiating the many steep steps beloved by runners for their evening training. The elusiveness of this flying god continues when we examine its history. It was purchased by Stanley Burton after the rumour that it was being sold for scrap in 1983. Formerly known as The Spirit of Enterprise, it was mounted on the side of the Midland Bank offices in London, before the building had been sold to developers. This title, vacuous and corporate, has a whiff of recognition for me since I give an annual lecture on cultural entrepreneurship to students in one of the lecture theatres behind the sculpture. I bring Mozart and his librettist Da Ponte as well as Levi Roots and his Reggae Reggae sauce into the equation to liven things up!

When Burton - a long time enthusiast for the sculptor - purchased the bronze, he had it brought up on a low-loader to Leeds. Chattaway was delighted the work regained its original title of Hermes, god of transitions and boundaries, herdsmen, thieves and (fittingly) athletes and poets. The sculptor is still living in Paris but was brought up in Coventry and his sculpture is almost contemporaneous with Epstein's St Michael the Archangel subduing the Devil, pinned on the wall of the 'new' cathedral, and the first sculpture I really noticed as a child.

Image: Sir Jacob Epstein, St Michael's Victory over the Devil (Coventry Cathedral), 1958, bronze, Source image

I wanted to connect the two, and also to say something about the new duck house that has been sited below the sculpture this year.

Hermes, duckpond

So, since I'm a poet, I've written a poem to try to get beyond rational prose and to discover connections between these different objects and worlds. In critical terms, you could say this is the 'context' of the sculpture for me in May 2015.

Like blows of scissors

You know it's a university
because of the acres of rendered concrete
anxious to be listed
and not because of the board duck house
especially built for the annually nesting pair
next to the fountains, and below Hermes
that flying bronze caught between space
and solidity, pinned high on the building,
heading for the hospital's rooftop helipad.

The god's floating heaviness demands,
presses me back to a child's
first shock of wall-stuck sculpture:
the spear toting Archangel of Coventry,
his left foot stamping down the Devil
that flattened his city. Hope is a thing
of giant wings, a sure-belief grander
than the ankle stubs of Chattaway's
barely mythic messenger,
sans snaky staff, sans thonged sandals,
his flight caught in a jammed wrench,
his burnished sound a bass screech,
his flesh saw-cut with a blunt knife
that havocked the clay, drove in vitality.

Cast into life, Hermes soars,
connects the wild and the ordered -
ducklings and rectangles -
creates unexpected meetings,
allows us to move freely between worlds
like my diligent Korean student,
who is sitting on the bench
and who has just had her first talk
with a Christian homosexual.

Roger Stevens building with Hermes overlooking duck pond

Painting Pictures with Words

This month's seasonally apt, profound creative writing piece by Angela Beese has inspired us to partake in some spring cleaning in the Gallery Office.

Spanish Washerwoman

Image: Joseph Herman, Spanish Washerwomen, ink on paper, © Estate of Josef Herman. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2015.

From these few simple tools: ink, pen
or maybe sharpened stick, water, brush,
and one torn-edged square of blank cream card.

With these skills: comprehending eyes
that know the scene beyond its surface charm;
a heart that feels the balance and the shapes

And practiced hands that can translate the moment
sparely into bold and fluid lines
and three simple tones of inky wash.

This is what we see: two women
turned away from us, bending over
tubs with washing in. The sun is hot.

In their strong bodies we can see the labour
they have done for years. Keeping clean:
a routine chore that women have always done.

Across all continents, all times, women give
their care in modest ways and calmly bear
the necessary drudge that comes from love.

By Angela Beese

A Spotlight on Public Art

This week, our wonderful new Public Art Intern, Sarah Ledjmi, has written a fabulous summary of the Public Art workshop that we held in the Gallery recently.

Public Art Strategy April Workshop

On 15 April, art enthusiasts and campus lovers were invited to discover the Public Art summer programme of events organised around campus for the University community. Public Art Project Officer Ann Sumner and University Librarian Stella Butler held a workshop among the stunning ceramic collection of The Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery, and the staff and students attending were treated to an exciting sneak-peak.

The Public Art Project at the University of Leeds was born out of a desire to make the art on campus more visible: the University holds major works of art, but they can be easily overlooked when rushing to seminars. In order to remedy this, a campus art trail and mobile app are set to be released in June this year. The map will accompany willing explorers in a journey around campus, from a brush with William Chattaway's Walking Figure, whose Giacometti-like features greet passing students in the Parkinson Court, to a cup of tea in the hidden courtyard of the Baines Wing café in the company of Austin Wright's Limbo sunbathers.

The release of the art trail will coincide with the unveiling of one of the most daring works ever commissioned by the University: A Spire by artist Simon Fujiwara, the sky-reaching homage to Leeds which will be installed at the entrance of the new Laidlaw library. Judging from the virtual projections teased out during the workshop, the sculpture promises to be a truly awe-inspiring landmark!

The theme of this year's celebration of public art on campus is 'Place-making'. It is about placing public art on the map literally and figuratively, and encouraging creative conversations between the University community and the art. The campus artworks contribute to the distinctiveness of the University, along with its stunning Victorian and modernist buildings. With Leeds's bid to be European Capital of Culture for 2023, the timing is ideal to focus on the unique artistic identity of city. The public artworks on campus reflect a tremendous history of cultural innovation, such as the tradition of the Gregory Fellows, who were artists in residence at the University. Current Fellow in Poetry, Helen Mort, has written a poem in response to the artwork Limbo from former Fellow in Sculpture, Austin Wright (the poem will be available on the art trail map). Interdisciplinary 15 minute art lunch talks are also planned during the next few months, an opportunity to discover new perspectives on the public art on campus.

Ann and Stella were keen to hear the participants' vision for the future of public artworks on campus. Themes for the next five years were discussed, with 'Yorkshire' and 'Campus Architecture and Iconography' proving popular with the panel. 2016, dedicated to 'Textiles', already has its heroine: Mitzi Cunliffe, the artist commissioned to create an artwork for the opening of the Man-Made Fibres Building in 1956. Celebrating its 60th anniversary next year, the stunning sculpture Man-Made Fibres deserves better acknowledgment and will be included in the campus art map. For those of you who might have missed it, head to the University Union steps and look up towards the Clothworkers' South building. Man-Made Fibres is nestled on top, two imposing hands delicately cradling a knitting of concrete.

Staff Picks XIII

Gallery Volunteer, Konstantinos Chatzirafailidis, writes about a popular painting with our visitors in this month's 'Staff Picks'.

Image: John Bratby, Kitchen, 1965, Oil on canvas, © The Estate of John Bratby. All Rights Reserved 2013 / Bridgeman Art Library, Image © University of Leeds

Kitchen by John Bratby

My favourite work in the collection is John Bratby's Kitchen which dates back to 1965. John Bratby is an interesting artist in lots of different ways. As the founder of the 'kitchen sink realism' movement (also known as 'kitchen sink drama') in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he tried to make use of an artistic style which was close to social realism and abstract expressionism at the same time. The movement's intention was basically to change the stereotypical portrayal of the working class in 1960s England and can therefore be seen as radical and revolutionary. Furthermore, in Bratby's case, most of his paintings are scenes inspired by the everyday life of his own, middle class family and that, in a way, makes his work even more powerful since the paintings come from personal experience.

This painting is very detailed, to the point where we can spend a lot of time looking at the image and getting the feeling that we are actually inside this kitchen ourselves. Besides its striking use of realism, another aspect worth mentioning is the colour palette that the artist has used. The bright colours catch the viewer's attention and add to the vividness of the painting, as they bring emphasis to everyday objects, often neglected in modern art. Also, Bratby does not limit his creativity to depicting only what is inside the kitchen but he goes even further and gives us the opportunity to get a glimpse of the outside world, too. Thus, the painted windows function in almost the same way that windows in real life do.

Another part of the painting that one might want to focus on is the human presence and how it is related to kitchen sink realism and its goals. As in most paintings that belong to the movement, the people pictured in Kitchen (probably a mother with her son) appear to be expressionless and unhappy. There is no effort made by Bratby to beautify the scene. The woman and the younger boy stand in the corner of the painting lifeless, merged with the rest of the objects, yet that 'lifeless presence' is exactly what I find alluring about this work. Their appearance in the painting makes the scene more interesting and their passivity compliments the inanimate, everyday objects. I see this painting as a raw interpretation of an ordinary scene taken from a working class family. Overall, the painting depicts exactly what the title indicates - a kitchen. But that does not stop the artist from offering a kind of social commentary and giving us an insight into a working class family spending some time in the heart of the home.

A Spotlight on Public Art

This month, Dr Stella Butler, Head Librarian at Leeds University Library, shares her appreciation of Keith Wilson's 'Sign for Art (Stelae 2014)'. The sculpture was unveiled on campus in October 2014.

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Egg-citing Exhibitions!

Welcome back after the Easter break and welcome to two new exhibitions!

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Painting Pictures with Words

With it being April Fool's Day today, we just had to post something fun for this month's Creative Writing feature! We hope Mr Currie's humorous view of John Atkinson Grimshaw's work raises a few smiles!

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Staff Picks XII

In this month's 'Staff Picks' feature, Karen Mee, Visitor & Enquiry Support Coordinator in Special Collections, talks about felines with feeling! A delightful m(eow)using on a fabulous choice!

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A Spotlight on Public Art - Eric Gill

Eric Gill's controversial First World War Memorial 'Christ driving the Moneychangers from the Temple' is the latest in our 'Public Art in Focus' feature. Hear what art historian Ben Read has to say about this piece.

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