As part of our Heritage Open Days events on 15 and 16 September, we’re bringing the ancient legend of St. Margaret of Antioch to life. We’ve commissioned the artists Ian Kirkpatrick, Lorna Johnson, Mike Winnard, Alice Smith and Laura Porter to help tell the story of St. Margaret in an exhibition that will run from 15–20 September, between 10am and 4pm.
Before our beautiful Grade II* listed space became known as Left Bank Leeds, it was originally the St. Margaret of Antioch Church. Delving into our history, we uncovered the story of St. Margaret, who was a very popular saint in England during the medieval period – around 250 churches across the country bear her name.
Legend has it that Margaret refused a marriage proposal in Antioch and was consequently imprisoned, during which time several miraculous happenings occurred. She became the patron saint of expectant mothers and her emblem, a dragon, is based on one of her trials when a dragon tried to swallow her but his stomach rejected her and she escaped.
What better way to capture the imagination of children (and adults!) than the story of a devilish dragon and the opportunity to get creative? We met with Ian Kirkpatrick to find out more about his work and his plans for the St. Margaret & The Dragon Arts Weekend.
Tell us about yourself
I’m originally from Canada but I now workfrom a studio at East Street Arts in Leeds. My work is inspired by the history of art and design, from ancient cave art and Greek amphorae, to graffiti and computer graphics. I’ve exhibited work across the UK and internationally, with shows in Montreal, New Orleans, London, Berlin, New York and Chicago. Typically, I work as a sculptor, but recently I’ve also been designing large-scale murals – including new pieces in Middlesbrough, Oxford and the Netherlands.
What work might people have seen of yours in Leeds?
My sculpture ‘Hare’ was officially unveiled in the Harehills area of the city in March. The piece was commissioned by East Street Arts and Leeds City Council, and stands on the grounds of the Compton Centre on Harehills Lane. It’s made of hand-painted stainless steel and depicts early colonisations of Britain (referencing Roman mosaics, the Bayeux tapestry and Anglo Saxon manuscripts) alongside imagery from Leeds’ industrial and modern history. Its surface also references tapestry patterns from the diverse communities living in Harehills. I wanted to address Britain’s long history of migration, from ancient times until the present day. But I also wanted it to be fun and colourful – something that would make people smile as they walk past. I hope the artwork creates a positive energy in the neighbourhood and helps bring people together, especially during this divisive period in British history.
Futher down Harehills Lane, where it intersects with Darfield Road, you’ll see a second stainless steel sculpture that I was commissioned to create as part of the same initiative. This one is shaped like a large ‘H’ and is designed to welcome people as they enter the high street. It contains iconography from Harehills’ history.
If you visit the south bank of Leeds, you’ll find another one of my public artworks – this time it’s a large mural on a historic printworks on Water Lane. The artwork is titled ‘Renaissance’ and you can read it like a giant comic strip, remixing narratives from Holbeck’s past and present with visions for its future.
With such a keen interest in the iconographies, mythologies, and narratives of the past, we knew that the story of St. Margaret would appeal to you. How do you plan to bring it to life?
Although I’ve been to Left Bank Leeds several times (and shown work there as part of the 2017 Summer Group Show) I never knew its connection to the story of St. Margaret. It’s a fascinating legend, with lots of evocative imagery, in particular the part about being eaten by a dragon! So the sculpture will definitely be ‘dragon like’, albeit with a modern twist.
I’m also particularly interested in St Margaret’s willingness to suffer, rather than denounce her beliefs. I think it’s an interesting story, given the times we live in where people can have very strong feelings but often don’t follow this up with action. I will include imagery that addresses this idea, along with other relevant narratives that intersect along the way.
A favorite poem of mine, ‘The Second Coming’ by WB Yeats, draws on similar themes, in particular its line ‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity’. I like the idea of trying to make a piece that encourages people to regain conviction in their beliefs and actively oppose those modern-day ‘dragons’ that seek to harm the world.
How can people get involved with your work during the St. Margaret & The Dragon Arts Weekend?
I’m going to be producing some ‘mini dragon’ artworks that people can come and decorate, then fold into their own sculptures. This is something that anybody can do, from small children to adults. You can personalise your own dragon, create your own narrative for it, then place it alongside the big dragon sculpture. Hopefully, by the end of the exhibition we’ll have hundreds of dragons filling the space!
The St. Margaret & The Dragon Arts Weekend runs on 15 and 16 Sept, 10am–4pm. As well as viewing the exhibition, visitors can get involved with drop-in, family-focused art and craft activities. These are free to attend but please RSVP online via Eventbrite.
There are also plaster casting workshops taking place throughout the weekend with artist Eva Mileusnic. Participants will learn the basics of plaster casting and cast a pair of stylised ‘feet’ from moulds, with part of the world map cast into the sole. Further information and tickets are available online via Eventbrite.
The arts weekend has been made possible with thanks to funding from Heritage Lottery Fund.