Mark Wallinger and Francis Butterfield: Leeds Art Gallery Celebrates its 130th Anniversary With Two New Displays

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In light of its 130th Anniversary, Kate McCaughey reviews two new exhibitions at Leeds Art Gallery.

Mark Wallinger – Threshold to the Kingdom, 2000

Video, projection, colour and sound [stereo]

Mark Wallinger, Threshold to the Kingdom, 2000

Threshold to the Kingdom, comprised of various slowed down shots of the International Arrivals doorway at City Airport, London, is a seemingly unusual choice for Leeds Art Gallery’s 130 Years Anniversary. Despite being awarded a Henry Moore Scholarship in Rome, London-born Wallinger has no poignant link to the gallery, or to West Yorkshire’s art scene at all. The piece isn’t particularly celebratory; I could force an over-extended argument about a temporal purgatory of being between spaces and the Anniversary being a culmination of past and present, but that might simply be too far-fetched. In isolation, the piece is thought provoking and incredibly calming; a dimly lit space with orchestral choir music playing, neoclassical pillars guiding your path towards the projection, Rodin’s sculpture The Gates of Hell comes to mind. However, strenuous links or not, the piece fits perfectly within Leeds Art Gallery’s walls. Contemporary, unusually moving and modestly successful, Wallinger’s video raises questions of movement and space, asking us to consider the outward opening doors, the people moving forward to meet loved ones but being unable to go past the doors, as well as the fact that the passengers, leaving the vacuum of specific geographical location, are entering a space where they’ll be past the point of turning back. Accompanied by images of Catholicism – the music, the border guard at an ‘alter’ of sorts, the framing of the room into an aisle by the pillars – visitors certainly have a lot to leave the exhibition thinking about.

Francis Butterfield [1905-1968]

“I cannot say I have ever really left Bradford. My knowledge of contemporary painting is limited to black and white reproductions. I have never lived in London nor been to Paris. I can’t really analyse in words what I’m getting at. I just paint.” – Francis Butterfield

Francis Butterfield, Figure Derivation

If you have ever been to Leeds Art Gallery, you will know that the curators love to show off Yorkshire’s Abstract Expressionist history. With names to boast such as Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Jacob Kramer, we can’t blame them. The Gallery also has a real knack for shining a light on underappreciated local artists, in this case, Yorkshire’s own response to Matisse or Kandinsky. Creating in response to 1930s bourgeois Britain, Francis Butterfield worked with oils, paint, sculpture and more to piece together moments of life with delicacy, feeling and immense focus. With vast influences such as Cubism and Hepworth, the exhibition displays a wide range of styles and mediums, including drafts and experiments, and original letters from the artist, creating a rounded view of the scale of Butterfield’s craft. A poignant dynamic of much of his work, is the tandem of simple shapes and empty spaces on a page, amidst splashes of water colour to craft dream-like versions of seemingly mundane scenes. Line drawings comprised of swift strokes, each individual paintbrush hair visible, underscored by waxy gaps of red bleeding out, Butterfield found beauty in the minimal, but couldn’t lead to a scoff of “I could do that”. His work was a very humbling response to the intensity of much of the abstract expressionism of the time, reflecting a less invasive but in no way, less intimate, articulation of colour and shape.

The Francis Butterfield exhibition and Mark Wallinger’s Threshold to the Kingdom will be on display at Leeds Art Gallery until 13 January 2019.

Kate McCaughey

Images courtesy of Leeds Art Gallery