Leeds-List: The Best & Most Insightful Guide to Leeds

The Academic & Civic Art Trail

· Culture

From the University of Leeds through to Victoria Gardens, follow our public art trail.

Follow this public trail through the University of Leeds, Millennium Square and on to Leeds Art Gallery…

The University of Leeds is home to an abundance of public art, created by critically acclaimed sculptors and their own talented academics, so this is where our trail begins. It will take you past towering mosaics, mind-boggling sculptures and ginormous casts, before you head into the city to discover the work of Henry Moore, Tom Lomax and more.

Leeds College of Art Mosaics

Blenheim mosaic, Leeds College of Art

Your journey begins with a lingering look at three, sixty year-old mosaics – each standing at a mighty 14 metres high. Former principal Eric Taylor used Venetian and Mexican glass tiles to create this traditional market scene, showing flowers, fish and food for sale. They were originally hung in the Merrion Centre from 1964, but the college saved them from demolition by painstakingly moving them to Blenheim Walk piece by piece. Just as well, because they’re a significant part of Leeds’ art scene, and a worthy start to your art trail.

Outside Leeds Art College, Blenheim Walk, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9AQ.

A Spire

A Spire Leeds

Industrial cities like ours have more than a few chimneys, but artist Simon Fujiwara’s specimen is well worth seeking out, because it is in fact a beautiful symbol of Leeds’ past and future. A Spire is a 9 metre column of Portland stone and glass, which gets its distinctive bands of colour from pulverised coal, steel dust and copper, reflecting the city’s industrial heritage. On closer inspection, you’ll spot subtle grooves made with cables and branches, that symbolise Leeds’ booming new digital era. It stands in stark contrast to the Victorian church spires either side of it.

Outside The Laidlaw Library, University of Leeds, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9JT.

Sign of Art (Stelae 2014)

Sign of Art, University of Leeds

Keith Wilson’s Sign of Art is a dramatic pair of towering black squiggles that you can walk between or admire from a distance – but there’s far more to it than meets the eye. When the Yorkshire-based artist taught deaf-blind students in the 1980s, he drew this, the brainwave sign, on their foreheads with his fingers, so they knew he’d arrived and the class had begun. That’s what you’re looking at in its 3D form, casting different shadows depending on the time of day that you visit.

Sign of Art, Beech Grove Plaza, University of Leeds, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9AQ.

Levitating Woman ‘The Dreamer’

Levitating Woman, University of Leeds

Just around the corner, a seemingly gravity-defying sculpture is tucked away in Clothworkers’ Court – it will leave you wondering how artist Quentin Bell did it. The university’s former Head of Fine Art was inspired by the magic tricks he saw as a youngster, so his mystery woman made of fibreglass is suspended in mid air, lying on her side, with only the draped cloth of her dress to hold her. It’s an unusual sculpture worth seeking out, offering a delicate balance of art and physics.

Levitating Figure, Clothworkers’ Court, University of Leeds, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9AQ.

Man-Made Fibres

Man Made Fibres, University of Leeds

Next up, is the second sixty year-old masterpiece on your art trail through Leeds, and you’ll need to tilt your head skyward to spot it as it sits up high on Clothworkers’ Building South. Man-Made Fibres is a huge pair of hands gently cradling a pattern of woven thread, carved from white Portland stone by American sculptor Mitzi Cunliffe. Her tribute to Leeds’ textile heritage was unveiled by the Duke of Edinburgh when the building opened in June 1956. Hundreds of people pass it every day, but few take the time to really appreciate it – you can be one of the few.

Man-Made Fibres, Clothworkers’ Building South, University of Leeds, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9JT.

A Chair is A Difficult Thing

A Chair is a Difficult Thing Sculpture, University of Leeds

Take a load off at your next stop by sitting on the only ‘functional sculpture’ on your public art tour of Leeds – a wooden bench made with countless recycled chairs, circling a silver birch tree near the students’ union. Created by 2015 graduate Sam Judd, ‘A Chair is A Difficult Thing’ was shortlisted for the FUAM Graduate Prize, celebrating the creme de la creme of final year Fine Art and Design talent. It’s inspired by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe’s quote about the simplest things in life being the hardest to achieve.

18 Beech Grove Terrace, University of Leeds, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9JT.

United Bas-Relief

United Bas Relief, University of Leeds

Made by Hubert Dalwood, one of Britain’s leading post-war sculptors, United Bas-Relief is a Grade II listed sculpture that went back on display at the University of Leeds in May. It covers an entire side of the Stage@Leeds building with abstract shapes, scales and crocodile skin patterns. In 1959, he created an iron framework in a hangar at Yeadon aerodrome, which he covered in chicken wire and clay, before designing 36 four foot square panels. A plaster cast of each piece was taken and sent to be cast in aluminium in Ferrybridge – which is what you see today.

United Bas-Relief, Stage@Leeds, University of Leeds, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9JT.

Dual Form

Dual Form Sculpture, Barbara Hepworth, University of Leeds

Barbara Hepworth’s Dual Form was installed at Stage@Leeds this August, on loan from Leeds Art Gallery. The bronze sculpture with a signature Hepworth hole pierced through the middle has slowly turned brown and green as it’s aged outside for over 50 years. It’s been everywhere from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park to Washington DC, the Netherlands and beyond since it was made in 1965. The Wakefield-born, Leeds School of Art trained sculptor wanted to prove that there are countless ways to enjoy and experience art – and with this, she has.

Stage@Leeds, University of Leeds, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9JT.

Meet, Sit, Talk & Conversation

Meet, Sit, Talk & Conversation, University of Leeds

Artists are usually precious about their art, but not Lorna Green. She actively encourages you to perch on her three stone circles in Chancellor’s Court at the other end of the University of Leeds campus, creating a social space for you to relax with friends. Each boulder has a rectangle of polished granite embedded in it to give you a unique glimpse of the sky above. Above is exactly where you need to be to get a bird’s eye view of these arty henges, so climb the staircase to the balcony outside the Faculty of Environment for the best angle on the art.

Meet, Sit, Talk & Conversation, Chancellor’s Court, University of Leeds, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9JT.


Limbo, University of Leeds

Little did holidaymakers in Lizard and West Penrith know that Austin Wright would immortalise them in a sculpture you can find right here in Leeds. He crafted 26 characters from lead, based on sketches he made of real people on Praa beach during the 1950s. They’re sheltered within something resembling a disheveled bookcase, out in the courtyard of the Baines Wing Coffee bar. Some stand tall, while others crouch down, and yet more lounge on their side – but all are worth a look. Just be aware that this work of art is only accessible during term time.

Limbo, Baines Wing Coffee Bar Courtyard, University of Leeds, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9AQ.

Hermes/The Spirit of Enterprise

Spirit of Enterprise, Roger Stevens Building, University of Leeds

Inspired by a Greek god, William Chattaway’s 6 metre high bronze sculpture of Hermes is pinned mid-flight to the plainer side of the Roger Stevens building, nestled above the water fountains and duck pond below. He’s a rugged chap, rather rough around the edges, unlike Leeds’ other classically-inspired statues. But he’s been up there since 1983, after the London branch of Midland Bank sold him for scrap. Take advantage of the nearby benches for a well deserved break and to take in the art.

Hermes / The Spirit of Enterprise, Roger Stevens Building, University of Leeds, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9JT.

Guardian Angels

Guardian Angels, Jubilee Square, Leeds General Infirmary

Leaving the university behind, it’s time to inch your way back into town to pay Tom Lomax’s Guardian Angels a visit outside the Jubilee Wing of Leeds General Infirmary. Inspired by ancient myths, they’re certainly fun to look at. One has 140 wings, while others depict everything from a golden sun and a hand covered in red flame-like patterns to plant-like sculptures which symbolise healing and a sword half-drawn from a scabbard that represents the angel of death. And the name? It’s because they’re designed to watch over patients and their loved ones.

Guardian Angels, Leeds General Infirmary, Great George Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 3EX.

Both Arms

Both Hands, Mandela Gardens, Millennium Square

The next piece of art will welcome you into Millennium Square with open arms, because that’s quite literally what it is – a semi-abstract pair of limbs, made of blue and grey striped bronze. Both Arms sits on an impressive 5-metre high pillar, perfectly positioned in front of Leeds Civic Hall, which makes for a stunning backdrop. It happens to be one of the final works from Leeds artist Kenneth Armitage, as well as being one of the last pieces on your public art trail.

Both Arms, Mandela Gardens, Millennium Square, Great George Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 3AD.

From Freedom to Future

Freedom to the Future, Mandela Gardens, Millennium Square

Antonia Stowe’s semicircle of ten bronze pillars can be found in Mandela Gardens, where it stands in honour of democracy in South Africa. Each pillar is covered in red, yellow and green handprints made by school kids in Leeds and Durban, to symbolise South Africa’s walk to freedom and create a visual interpretation of the book – From Freedom to Future. Leeds City Council commissioned it for the 2004 Chelsea Flower Show, but they now have a permanent place in Millennium Square.

Freedom to Future, Mandela Gardens, Millennium Square, Great George Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 3AD.

Henry Moore’s Reclining Woman: Elbow

Reclining Woman, Henry Moore, Leeds Art Gallery, Victoria Gardens

Back after a brief hiatus in Amsterdam and Hertfordshire, Henry Moore’s stunning Reclining Lady is once again lounging on the wall outside the Leeds Art Gallery. Moore chose the sculpture himself to sit there, deciding to make the provocative figure, with bare breasts, wide hips and legs apart, front and centre. He’s something of a local legend, having studied at Leeds College of Art before forging a successful career as an artist and sculptor. His work can now be found in prominent galleries around the world, as well as his own gallery next door.

Outside Leeds Art Gallery, The Headrow, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 3AA.

You Are a Rock

You're a Rock at Victoria Gardens

One particular paving slab outside Leeds Art Gallery deserves a double take as it offers a friendly reminder that you’re stronger than you think you are – it’s just a matter of hunting it out. ‘You Are a Rock’ was engraved into the stone by Pippa Hale in 2005. She’s now a co-founder of The Tetley, but in those days, she collaborated with David Hawkins and Stuart Tarbuck on a project that saw thirteen texts pop up in the city.

Outside Leeds Art Gallery, The Headrow, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 3AA.


Crown at Nuffield Heath

A fitting end to your fourteen-stop public art trail, Crown is a dynamic fifteen year-old stone sculpture waiting for you outside Nuffield Hospital’s main entrance. Four unique figures, individually hand-carved by Faith Bebbington stand hand-in-hand with their heads and arms raised to the sky. If they look familiar, it’s because they’re inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Human Figure in a Square Circle’ drawing. Originally called ‘Human Spirit’, they symbolise strength and good health – and to ensure nothing detracted from the message, they were made deliberately genderless.

Crown, Nuffield Health, Leeds Hospital, 2 Leighton Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 3EB.