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. 

Staff Picks XIV

This month's Staff Pick from the Library Team combines two treasured British pastimes; art appreciation and tea drinking!

Leeds Pottery Teapot

Image: Teapot and lid, probably Leeds, 1770s-80s, Ceramic, Image © University of Leeds

Being a "hardened and shameless" tea drinker, to borrow Samuel Johnson's "word-picture" of himself, I have always had a fondness for lovely tea things (even if most of the time I am in too much of a hurry to make anything fancier than 'teabag in a mug' tea). 

So my favourite thing is a Yorkshire Pottery creamware teapot, probably from Leeds, that is contemporary to the later years of that shameless tea drinker's life.

I really like the simplicity and elegance of the green stripes; very fashionable in the Georgian period. The openwork seen on the teapot (and sugar cup) looks very similar to the pieced designs still seen on Leeds pottery creamware today. 

That is not the only aspect of continuity with the present. Although at the time this teapot was made, tea was no longer such a new drink, the fashion having begun a century or so before, tea drinking was still a fashionable pursuit. Despite the ever- changing nature of fashion, the teapot remains a teapot - you could use this one today in exactly the same way it was used 200 years ago, and it wouldn't look out of place on a modern tea table.  

I also like being able to see what some of the rest of the set looked like, that the sugar cup has openwork to match the teapot, and that the tea canister has a little domed lid. I wonder what the tea cups and saucers would have looked like?  This then lead me on to wondering about the people who bought the items and used them. Who came to the tea party when this set was used? What gossip and scandal sweetened the tea? 

Teapots are such everyday items and that's what I like about them. They weren't just for looking at, they were for using - and were used across the social spectrum. Tea is about people, and I have an incurable nosiness about people in the past, what they did and how they lived. 

Here's a link to some more exquisite pieces in the Yorkshire Pottery (Leeds) collection:

Image: Tea cannister and lid, probably Leeds, 1770s-80s, Ceramic, Image © University of Leeds

Leeds Pottery Tea Canister

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:

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.