Championing Contemporary Art at The Tetley


Having The British Art Show on our doorstep has thrust the visual arts into the city’s limelight. From portraits through to audio visuals, work from a huge collection of the most influential contemporary artists is on show at Leeds Art Gallery until January 2016.

With this influx of artistic prowess, suddenly not knowing the latest name to break can seem like a shameful social sin, ending with us feeling resigned to smile and nod politely along to our cultured contemporary’s critiques of exhibitions we’ve never heard of.

However, if this sounds like you, don’t worry! Contemporary Art Gallery, The Tetley reassure us that sometimes it’s perfectly ok not to know who the artist is. Sometimes, it’s all about the discovery.

The Feast Wagon exhibition at The Tetley
The Feast Wagon exhibition at The Tetley

The Tetley’s exhibitions and events programme champion emerging talent alongside more established names, purposefully supporting creatives who are about to break in the exciting, rule-breaking universe which is the UK art scene.

This ethos allows early-career artists a respected platform to exhibit alongside better-known names such as Jessica Warboys who is currently exhibiting in British Art Show 8. This mix and match of established and lesser known names, gives the public the chance to view cutting-edge contemporary art from bigger names and ones to watch.

Rightly, hosting the launch of The British Art Show has created feeling of excitement and prestige however, it’s important to point out that there is, and always has been, a thriving and active art scene in Leeds. The city has a multitude of studio spaces and artist-led projects which make the city a culturally rich hub in Yorkshire and an attractive (and viable) location for artists to live outside of the capital.

The Feast Wagon exhibition at The Tetley
The Feast Wagon exhibition at The Tetley

Sitting alongside the British Art Show, “Unfold”  is an eclectic mix of events, talks, exhibitions, debates and performances spotlighting the visual arts scene in Leeds. Unfold aims to showcase and give credit to the dedicated venues, collectives and artists bringing the creative community to life all year round.

Contemporary Art Gallery The Tetley’s, response to the British Art Show comes in the form of “The Feast Wagon” an exhibition of new work by a mix of exciting early-career and established artists exploring the history of spectacular touring shows.

From 7 October 2015– 10 January 2016, Lubaina Himid and Susan Walsh, Simeon Barclay and Delaine Le Bas let visitors explore the history of spectacular touring shows, the influence of cultural icons in the formation of personal and collective identity alongside ideas of movement and migration are considered through sculptural installations, painting, collage, video and textile work.

The Feast Wagon exhibition at The Tetley
The Feast Wagon exhibition at The Tetley

Delaine La Bas, uses her own experiences as British Roma artists to influence her work, previously stating; “ As a Romany, my viewpoint has always been that of an outsider and this position of the “other” is reflected in the materials and messages of my work.”

Lubaina Himid and Susan Walsh expand on their work with wagons for this exhibition creating carts from upcycled materials and adorned with beautiful paintings of exotic animal paintings, again reinforcing the idea of migration. . The ‘Double-Cart’ which escapes up The Atrium gallery wall, was built from packing crates which have sent Lubiaina’s artwork around the world and another from a skateboard which a friend couldn’t bear to part with. These carts, which are housed on the atrium floor and out on Brewery Green, aren’t treated as artefacts, instead removing the traditional gallery rope and post barriers and encouraging you to get up close and investigate the pieces. Music to our inquisitive ears!

Rising star and Leeds Metropolitan (now Beckett) graduate, Simeon Barclay brings to the plate his newly commissioned work, which takes a visual look into how it has become easy to establish yourself as “a someone” in today’s society.

The Feast Wagon exhibition at The Tetley
The Feast Wagon exhibition at The Tetley

Inspiration for the exhibition stemmed from the research of Irfan Shah, as he looked into the inventor, Louis Le Prince who produced what is said to have been the first moving picture in the world right here in Leeds. It was through this research he came across another Victorian Yorkshireman, John Whitley. Whitley was a friend of Louis Le Prince, a local manufacturer based just a stone’s throw from The Tetley. Although he was involved in the world of manufacturing, Whitley was a proactive supporter of arts and culture and styled himself as an ‘industrial PT Barnum’.

It was through this cultural-entrepreneurship he brought Buffalo Bill’s ‘Wild West Show’ to England in 1887 on a patch of London wasteland and due to it’s success (drawing the likes of the Queen and Oscar Wild) he started staging more large-scale shows on this site, which developed into the international exhibition centre, Earl’s Court.

Zoë Sawyer, one of exhibition co-curators explains that parallels can be drawn today between the former Brewery Headquarters, itself a waste ground-turned-exhibition space and Earl’s Court, once part of the industrial heartland of the city;

“As a centre for contemporary art and learning, The Tetley is a fitting home for this exhibition.  As the eyes of the contemporary art-world focus on Leeds with the arrival of the British Art Show, we wanted to present an opportunity to examine the late 19th century links between art and industry and the boom in civic spaces for art such as Leeds Art Gallery and Earl’s Court that this close relationship enabled. Ideas within ‘The Feast Wagon’ consider the broader relevance of movement, migration and cultural exchange that continue to shape the identities of individuals and communities today.”

The Feast Wagon exhibition at The Tetley
The Feast Wagon exhibition at The Tetley

The varied artwork within ‘The Feast Wagon’s’ combine to create an interesting insight into how touring shows shaped cultural migration however, don’t fear if you want a little extra help in understanding the meaning behind the artwork. As a centre of Contemporary Art and Learning, The Tetley is equipped to give you the tools you need to really get to grips with the exhibition, so don’t be afraid to (literally) raise a hand and ask a question. There are guided tours of the current exhibitions every other Saturday with knowledgeable members of the team on hand to talk you through the show.

Every other Saturday free drop-in family art workshops, led by local artists, give the little ones a chance to explore themes within the show and make their very own carts and sculptures! For grown up’s, the First Thursday of the month, The Tetley opens late, giving those who work 9-5 the chance to explore the show after hours and join in events from talks and film screenings and a chance to meet the artists and curators from the show.

The Borrowers exhibition
The Borrowers exhibition

If absorbing all that information leaves you in need of well-deserved break, The Tetley’s light and airy bar and restaurant is a great place to take the weight off your feet, as well as an opportunity to continue your art exploration. A new two part exhibition, ‘The Borrowers’, adorn this space with a playful array of collage work by six Leeds based and International artists.

And before you dismiss The Tetley as “a bit out of town”, you may want to rethink, it’s actually only a five minute walk from Briggate and is conveniently located right next to the Brewery Car Park. This alternative venue offers an opportunity to fill up on great food, as well as topping up your cultural credentials.

So as events take place across the city, The Tetley reminds us that art is all about discovering new talent. A lack of knowledge shouldn’t be seen as a cultural faux pas but an exciting opportunity to explore the ever evolving artistic world.

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