New exhibition celebrates teacher who turned to sculptor later in life
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New exhibition celebrates teacher who turned to sculptor later in life
Austin Wright, Limbo, 1958, concrete and lead. Presented by the Austin Wright Trust through the Art Fund, 2014. Image © University of Leeds.

LEEDS.- Austin Wright was an adopted Yorkshireman who came late to the art world. The art and languages teacher decided to pursue a career as a full-time sculptor following a meeting with Henry Moore, who advised bluntly that Wright should “just get on with it”.

Now a new exhibition at the University of Leeds will explore Wright’s career and artistic development.

Austin Wright: Emerging Forms, which opens at The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery later this month, focuses on his sculpture and drawings between 1955-75, a crucial period for the development of his practice and reputation in the art world.

Although born in Cardiff, Wright (1911-1997) made his home in Yorkshire and was a key proponent of the sculpture scene, being one of the featured artists at the opening of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

The landscape of Yorkshire was highly influential on Wright and his practice. He said: “It’s a region that you come to know: like a face, you cannot assess it all in one look – you build it; it builds you. […] If I had to go anywhere else – it would only be to carry it in my head. It’s the one place that I needed to return to work. In a sense, I do not understand anywhere else.”

A key period for Wright’s practice was his time at The University of Leeds as a Gregory Fellow from 1961-64. His fellowship has been described by art historian James Hamilton as “the hinge” of his career. The financial support of the fellowship enabled him to devote himself to his sculpture fully, but also introduced him to students, researchers and to a rich intellectually-stimulating atmosphere on campus.

Dr Stella Butler, University Librarian and Keeper of the Brotherton Collection, said: “We are delighted to be displaying the work of a former Gregory Fellow. This exhibition showcases the University’s rich history of supporting and nurturing artistic practice.”

The show tracks the change from Wright’s work in the 1950s, with his focus on human figures moving and engaged in activities, through to his more abstract work in 1960s during the fellowship and beyond.

One important change was of medium: during his fellowship, Wright moved from casting in concrete and lead to aluminium – the material which he is most known for today. Equally important was meeting Leeds botanist Professor Irene Manton, whose electron microscope photographs of internal plant structures inspired Wright to move away from figuration towards natural forms, and to work on a greater scale with increased verticality.

Layla Bloom, University Art Curator said: “Austin Wright’s work has a quiet, contemplative quality that begs time to be fully appreciated. It’s not in your face. Wright captures fleeting moments and subtle movements. His sculpture celebrates growth, change and the vital beauty of the natural world.”

Although he is best known and loved in the North of England, he did achieve national and international success following a recommendation from Wakefield director and visionary curator Helen Kapp. Kapp recommended Wright to the Director of the British Council, from which followed invitations to participate in the Younger British Sculptors tour of Sweden (1956/7) and Ten Young British Sculptors at the São Paulo Biennale in Brazil – where Wright was awarded the Ricardo Xavier da Silveira Acquisition Prize.

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