Seagulls: Exhibition examines identity and volunteers


An exciting new art exhibition called Cuts and Blocks has popped up on Kirkstall Road and is all about identity and how people view themselves and each other.

The display has been funded by Leeds Inspired and Seagulls ReUse, a paint shop and social enterprise that diverts unwanted paint from landfill and provides people with a chance to get involved with art and the community.

Artist Leon Varga took Polaroid pictures of the staff and volunteers at Seagulls ReUse and then scaled the photos up and painted large canvas portraits of their faces.

ANNA RILEY went along to the opening night to find out more.

The exhibition

The exhibition space is upstairs in what looks like a stripped-out warehouse next to the Seagulls ReUse shop on Kirkstall Road.

The walls are lined with canvasses of the faces of people who work at and volunteer for Seagulls ReUse and the well-lit room shows off the images in their full glory.

Leon Varga is an interdisciplinary Hungarian artist behind the work, which took him eight months to create.

He gave a talk to a captive audience at the official opening of the exhibition and explained to the group what inspired him.

Leon said:

“My connection to Seagulls goes back about 12 years and that was my primary reason for working with them on the exhibition.

“I do all parts of art including installations, graphics, sculptures and paintings.

“This project is based on the subject of portraiture identity and because portraiture is traditional part of art, it is a really approachable way to engage with communities.

“The people that I painted had no clue that I was going to paint them. I just took a Polaroid picture of them and then scaled it up on canvas and turned it in to art.

“A few of my subjects got quite emotional when they found out about their portraits.

“We don’t really look at our faces properly in the mirror, so seeing these paintings up close really made the people that I painted look at themselves and who they are.”

See more of what Leon had to say about the exhibition:

Leon has lived in Leeds for 12 years and spent many years developing his artistic approach while studying at the Hungarian School of Fine Art, and has worked with European institutions and collaborated with many visual organisations since the early 1990s.

Leeds Inspired also provided a donation for the project.

The exhibition opened on 20th April and runs for a month. It is free to visit and open to all.

Seagulls ReUse

Seagulls is a paint shop and social enterprise that was set up by founders Kate Moree and Cat Pearson 15 years ago.

The pair are very passionate about art, the environment and social justice and Seagulls combines all of these passions.

The not-for-profit organisation has a contract with Leeds City Council, which means that paint is donated to the shop from nine of their household waste sites and is saved from landfill. This amounts to around 360 tonnes of paint saved per year.

seagulls paint Kirkstall Road
Happy Family: Staff and volunteers at Seagulls Paint. Photo: West Leeds Dispatch

Back at the Seagullss base on Aire Place Mills on Kirkstall Road, the paint is then re-mixed and repigmented, meaning that every colour is different. Householders are then granted a much more affordable way to decorate their homes through the purchase of the rescued paint.

Seagulls ReUse also run art workshops, including mosaic art, which allows the public to get creative and the organisation also helps people that would otherwise struggle in society such as ex-prisoners by providing them with a place to work.

The organisation also like to spread and share art around the city and as well as gaining funding for the Cut and Blocks exhibition, have also recently won a bid from Leeds Inspired to create a mosaic wall for Leeds Kirkgate Market.

Kate and Cat said:

“We set up Seagulls because we found that there was a lack of awareness and issues with recycling and reusing and we wanted to do something proactive about it, as well as providing an opportunity to people for employment and training.
“We do a lot of community art and are really excited about the exhibition of Leon’s art.

“We run workshops for children, hostels, mental health groups, anyone who wants to come along and smash a tile and feel better really.

“Anyone is welcome at Seagulls. You don’t have to have a love of paint, just a love of getting messy.”

See more of what they have to say about Seagulls Reuse and the exhibition here:

The paint shop on Kirkstall Road is open seven days a week from 10am to 4pm.

The exhibition gallery is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 2pm and runs until 20th May.




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