Exhibitions and Spaces: Leeds Central Library

Dancing Dresses (mixed media) Hilary Curwen

The other day, I decided to go and have a nose in the local artists’ exhibition space in the Leeds Central Library. I had heard from a friend there was some work worth taking a look at, and it was a while since I had been up there.

After my recent forays this last week into the hidden parts of Leeds, I feel I am starting to qualify as a guide to ‘Leeds insolite’ as the French would term it. A chic and pleasantly gallic way of describing fragments of cultural and natural interest in unexpected places. Weaving through the Central Library and up the magnificent Victorian gothic staircase certainly qualifies: it is always a very pleasing experience, and worthy of a post all to itself sometime.

It’s true to say the staircase is a more inspiring architectural experience than the local artists’ exhibition space. The first time I saw the space, I thought it dismal and grim. That was nearly 20 years ago, and sadly it hasn’t improved in that time. I have no idea what the ‘making good’ requirements after each show are, but it’s not just post-hanging scarring: the whole room needs a couple of coats of white paint. Someone told me the waiting list to exhibit is 10 years.  I haven’t checked this out, and it may be completely wrong, but at the current rate of decay, I don’t think I would wait. I realise that the vicious spending cuts won’t have helped this sort of community space, but a community space perhaps calls for a community response?

In my dismay at the surroundings, it called for a bit of effort to take my eyes off the walls long enough to appreciate the work on show. There are a couple of things on during May: a photography exhibition by New Image (a diverse group of mainly documentary photographers) and an exhibition of mixed media paintings by Hilary Curwen.

A work included in the Now Image group exhibition at Leeds Central Library, by a young Cuban photographer

I particularly liked Michael Lee’s atmospheric images from the Holderness coast, and Stephan Dean’s pictorial essay on the port of Goole. They were not necessarily original takes on their respective subjects, but they were beautifully done. In addition, there was a spectacularly good photograph by a young Cuban artist being supported by the group. It showed a group of workers in front of a tractor.  The group pose had a stillness and clarity which I found strangely compelling and slightly unreal. I spent some while puzzling about the lighting and strangeness of this image; the reproduction above does not do it justice.

Hilary Curwen uses fabrics and collage to evoke past dressmakers and fantasy dresses. The works on show seemed to fall into two groups, with a series of smaller paintings making much more obvious use of collaged fabric. I thought these more evidently mixed media painted works were very successful, with a lovely textural quality and use of colour.

Both exhibitions are on, I think, to the end of May 2011.

But oh, the tatty space…

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