of how successful art in public spaces can be. But now that the Arts Council's lottery
funding has been capped, how much more of it will we see?
Jubilee Square, outside Leeds General Infirmary, is the space that separates Sixties high-rise from a mournful Victorian red-brick hospital by Gilbert Scott and the new wing by Llewelyn-Davies. Swirling with pattern and movement, the Jubilee Square really is cause for jubilation. It puts a spring in the step.
Tess Jaray, the painter and head of postgraduate studies at the Slade, who created this bold composition in brickwork, illustrates the magic and calming power of pattern on a scale that I hesitate to call breathtaking, since it was designed for people who have run out of puff somewhat. Still, it is a fitting memorial to the Arts Council, who awarded pounds 700,000 lottery money back in 1995 to get art off its pedestal and into "place making".
Today, the Arts Council, winded, crippled, gasping for breath, could never pull off that sort of artistic commission. Applications to the Arts Council for lottery funding have been capped by pounds 100,000 until a new approach to capital funding with the Regional Arts Boards can be agreed. Tess Jaray couldn't even pave an alleyway in Spitalfields with that sort of petty cash.
The new pounds 90m Leeds General Infirmary marks the end of the great era of Arts Council influence on putting art into public spaces. Its main element is the new Jubilee Wing by cutting-edge hospital architects Llewelyn- Davies, who have replicated the rotunda of the Gilbert Scott hospital with their own entrance. The entrance is "as welcoming as a hotel foyer", the project architect Ken Cook says optimistically. More accustomed to working around fibre optic and laser technology with the men and women in white coats than artists, the architects, Llewelyn-Davies, admit that Tess Jaray's work has a calming influence on what is potentially a stressful area. They wanted her to work from the edges of their building inwards but she started from the canvas centre and worked outwards.
Her first project off the canvas and into 3D space was the forecourt of Victoria Station, which drew her right into Victorian pattern-making. Only an artist, she believes, could have spent the time to realise this kind of research. Her early brick patterns on paper were based on the erroneous idea that bricks bonded two-to-one. When she realised that the configuration was three-to-one, it opened up new potential. Next was the oriental carpet-making at the heart of Birmingham, and then the pale-blue and buff cruciform design outside Wakefield Cathedral. At Stickley, in Stoke-on-Trent, she reinvented the palest of pale buff bricks to anchor her designs, but then she learnt that they darkened in our carbonated atmosphere so she found an alternative. There is nothing she doesn't know about brick, or the laying of it.
The magic - and calming - power of pattern is introduced outside Leeds Infirmary with just four shades of brick, and fewer brick shapes than the Moguls had at their disposal, although she used some 80 different types of special brick shapes made with Brian Cooper of Ibstock Building products. She calls it "Pattern without vertigo". It has the audacity of true invention, the triumph of ideas over technical limitations. Brick the colour of old strawberries faintly echoes Gilbert Scott's Moorish decoration. A Gothic revivalist who designed St Pancras, Scott consulted Florence Nightingale in the planning of Leeds General Infirmary in 1868. Jaray puts a spin on his add-on ornamentation by making deft weaves from Prince of Wales check to herring-bone, interwoven with paisley. When she wants to tease the brickies who work alongside her on these patterns - as intricate as Fair Isle but a lot more backbreaking - she calls it "male knitting".
Rather than just pattern-making, Jaray uses traditional English bond brickwork for the rhythm and texture it generates. Carefully detailed planters and steps in the levels are expressive of the sloping site. Exuberant zigzagging, more Samarkand than Leeds city centre, marks the moment when Jaray got lift-off from the horizontal canvas and into the vertical plane, on something as prosaic as the huge hospital vent on the site. The 45m retaining walls are deep, designed to be sat upon in some areas. More than functional, they curl and scroll along changes of level, and the complex profiles of the round-edged copings set up plays of light on the moulding and chasing of the bricks. Tess Jaray's strength is that she has given these brick ramparts a sense of softness, not something you associate with brick.
The hospital, commissioned at a time when Labour, in opposition, voiced their commitment to architecture and design, opens at a time when New Labour's stand on creativity seems to be driven by the Treasury. Astonishingly, the Royal Institute of British Architects was not even mentioned in the White Paper on the Government's approach to architecture and the tax-payer's money.
An anxious knot of architects and artists, who met at the ICA on 14 September to consider the Arts Council's role in architecture in the future, were reminded of the Government commitment to ensure that "all new buildings are well designed, fit for purpose and of high quality" in a written contribution by Chris Smith, Secretary of State. He believes that: "The Lottery distributing bodies should continue to use their resources to achieve the highest standards in design and building ... and we look to the design professions to provide these standards".
Currently, the two buzz phrases in Government thinking on architecture which will drive future funding, either tax-payers' money or lottery funding, are "urban regeneration" and "regional". Urban Task Force, that band of environmentalists, town-planners, builders and opinion-makers led by Richard Rogers, has a budget three times that of the Arts Council.
In the autumn, ACE (Arts Council England) Architecture, established in 1992, which has provided a national overview to architecture as well as support for the Regional Arts Boards, will announce their plans. To regain a healthy circulation and once again be at the heart of the visual arts, they should consider consulting the case notes at Leeds General Infirmary.Reuse content