Staff Picks XIII

Gallery Volunteer, Konstantinos Chatzirafailidis, writes about one of the most popular paintings with our visitors in this month's 'Staff Picks'.

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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!

Black CatElizabeth Blackadder, Black Cat, Charcoal, chalk © The Artist

I love this drawing and smile every time I look at it. This is probably partly due to the fact that I have looked after cats for at least 20 years but I also recognise the pose, or should I say repose.  It is a position that only a cat truly trusting of its surroundings would dare to adopt. Exposing their belly and consequently their organs is a dangerous thing which is why they usually only do it if they are submitting to one higher up in the pecking order, or they totally trust their human. I can see that this particular cat feels in no danger at all.  Did the artist use a photograph for inspiration? Or did they have to do their preliminary sketches very quickly - a cat will not stay in this vulnerable position for very long.  A noise or arrival of another cat will easily disturb it and this moment of complete ecstasy is lost forever.

Although I am drawn to anything cat related , I do not like sentimental or anthropomorphised depictions and this is neither. To me it is simple, slightly impressionistic and rough around the edges; like my own cantankerous old black cat.  I am reminded of a series of paintings popular in the Pre-Raphaelite period, most notably John William Godward's Dolce Far Niente, a sentiment any self-respecting cat embodies and one that I am completely envious of: the pleasure of sweet idleness. 

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.

Eric Gill, 'Christ driving the Moneychangers from the Temple' c.1921. Originally attached to the Great Hall in 1923, now housed in the Michael Sadler building on the University of Leeds campus.

Eric Gill's Leeds War Memorial was commissioned for the City by the great Vice-Chancellor/Collector Sir Michael Sadler. Both he and the citizens of Leeds (who had paid for it) were rather startled when the Memorial was unveiled. Rather than the usual Tommies or Mourning Angels, it represented a scene from the New Testament, Christ Driving the Money-Changers from the Temple. This represented Gill's deeply held Christian beliefs about the iniquities of Capitalism being responsible for the War and all its slaughter. As if this was not enough, the Money-Changers were in contemporary dress (i.e. the Merchants and Bankers of Leeds), following on from shall we say a Lady with a Feather hat who might not have been as virtuous as she might have been. 

Though the University did its best for some years to conceal the work by growing ivy over it, it was eventually brought in. I have always enjoyed viewing the work, not just for its being a masterpiece of 20th century British sculpture, but also for its message, and because Gill was a friend of my parents, a brother's godfather no less. And I was taught at school by one of his close followers, Walter Shewring, who edited Gill's letters.

Eric Gill, 'Christ driving the Moneychangers from the Temple' c.1921

Eric Gill, 'Christ driving the Moneychangers from the Temple' c.1921

Ben Read is a writer and art historian and the son of the eminent art critic and poet Sir Herbert Read. He is the author of numerous books, essays and articles on nineteenth and twentieth-century art history, and is probably the most authoritative writer on British Victorian sculpture alive today. In 1990, Read became Senior Lecturer in Art History at the University of Leeds. Here he was also Director of the MA Sculpture Studies programme, under the auspices of the Henry Moore Foundation, from 1990 to 1997. In 2010, he was made Senior Visiting Research Fellow in Fine Art at the University of Leeds.


A Spotlight on Public Art on Campus

In this month's 'Public Art' feature, Professor Ann Sumner, our Public Art Project Officer, talks about what she's been up to recently and outlines her vision for public art on the University campus.

Ann Sumner

Image: Professor Ann Sumner in front of Quentin Bell's The Dreamer in Clothworkers' Court.

I was honoured to be asked to deliver a research seminar by Professor Griselda Pollock for the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies. On a chilly night in late February it was heartening to have a full house of staff and graduate students attend. The title of my presentation was Public Art for All - Curating the Campus at the University of Leeds and a new Strategy for Public Art. I considered the initial vision for a comprehensively curated campus highlighting new commissions such as the Simon Fujiwara A Spire, which will be unveiled outside the new Laidlaw Library this summer. There will also be a programme to commemorate Mitzi Cunliffe's Manmade Fibres 60th anniversary in 2016. I considered new research published on interpretation of campus art by English Universities, benchmarked against some inspirational American University models from Princeton to the Universities of Texas and Chicago and broadly outlined some of the key research themes for a potential Research Institute at the University of Leeds. Some lively debate ensued and I have followed up with some excellent feedback from staff members such as Will Rea, former Chair of the Harlow Art Trust and Dr Claudia Sternberg, Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies, with regard to World War I commemoration.

I have since lectured to the MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies students which resulted in an enthusiastic discussion afterwards and we hope to recruit two exciting student placements to support the Public Art Project, as a result. I am looking forward to speaking to Creative Writing Students in the School of English at the end of April, when I will also be lecturing to the School of Design staff and students. I'm also delighted to have been asked to speak to the Friends of Art and Music (FUAM) at the University in June or July this year. The Reporter also reported my appointment which means people now recognise me when we arrange to meet up!

I have had some really stimulating and exciting discussions with staff across campus including with the poet Helen Mort, current Douglas Caster Research Fellow, and Linda France, Creative Writing Fellow in the School of English. We hope very much that the new Campus Public Art Map will reflect literary responses to the sculpture on display and that the project will encourage everyone to look more closely at familiar works on campus with new eyes. Over the summer months, we plan some short 15 minute lunchtime talks to shed new light on our campus treasures.

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.

Girl with Hen and Chicks on Hat (1955) by Esme Eve

Image: Esme Eve (1920 - 2010), Girl With Hen and Chicks on Hat (1955), gouache on paper, The Estate of the Artist.

GIRL WITH A HAT by Josie Walsh

It frames your tilt of brow,
set smile, you seem hat-conscious
though, as you stand in water,
higher than your head.
And hat.

Air bubbles from your lips.
Fish nibble, eight of them.
They have ventilation
of their own. They are sleek, 
multi-sized and look quite
accommodating.

You have the handle of a net
in your right hand.
Its patterned twine is level
with your hat's dahlias, daisies
and forget-me-nots that ornament
the brim.

Your stranded hair
hangs like pasta
before it hits hot water.
Your feet seem sucked
to something solid
beneath the deep. But,
Art, when it is buoyant, waives logic.

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.

Henry Barlow Carter, Wreck off Scarborough, watercolour on paper, c.1840s.  Image © The University of Leeds

I can't say that I have a favourite work of art; instead I have many different favourite styles and painterly subjects that I hold dear, one of which is marine painting and the sublime seascape.

The seductive power of the sea was big business during the Romantic period and artists would go to great lengths to observe the forces of nature. For example, the painter Joseph Vernet reportedly tied himself to the mast of his ship during a storm to better observe the dramatic sea!

Wreck Off Scarborough by Henry B.Carter

In this painting by Henry Barlow Carter, we see a ship meeting its watery end off the coast of Scarborough. It is both a beautiful and terrible image, and I guess that is one of the things that I am drawn to about marine painting in general. The foamy waves are soft and beautiful, reflecting the silvery moonlight. However, the stormy clouds and tilting vessel are much harder, depicting the destructive power of the sea.

H.B Carter was a marine and landscape artist who also served in the Royal Navy. He eventually settled in Scarborough in the 1830s and earned a living offering private art tuition and selling his paintings of the local area to Victorian tourists. Carter's style is clearly influenced by the great J.M.W Turner; this is acknowledged on a hand written label attached to the reverse of the work:

'Carter, without being an imitator or copyist of J.M.W. Turner produced works from his own feeling and individuality that have much of the Turnerian character, and /many examples of his best time possess qualities which, in their way. have never been surpassed'.

Carter's sons both inherited their father's artistic talent. Carter's eldest son, Henry Vandyke Carter studied anatomy and in 1857- 6, drew the illustrations for the now famous textbook Gray's Anatomy. 

A Spotlight on Public Art - Mitzi Cunliffe

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.

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