There's a small upstairs drawing room at 54 Otley Road in Headingley. It's a neat little space quietly inhabited by worn, musty high-backed chairs and dark wood antique furniture. There are no pictures on the walls but dotted around on the shelves, the dresser, and the low coffee table are a lot of books. These are not casually strewn Penguin paperbacks you understand. Here, words dance in 3D, plants sprout from the pages, sentences whirl with needles in teacups and stories shuffle inside a tight concertina snake.
Bowery is an area in the East Village which brings together poets, musicians and artists. We want to bring this spirit and something fresh to Leeds and give local artists and the many talented arts graduates from the universities a reason to stay in the city.
Before you assume I'm on some potent magic mushrooms, I should explain. The room is playing host to Time and Space, an exhibition of new book art, and 54 Otley Road is better known as The Bowery, a brand new art gallery and café on the corner of the junction with Shaw Lane in Headingley.
Time and Space is a curious exhibition and one that makes a good opening statement on what this arts venue is about. Curated by Leeds resident Laura Atkinson and featuring local and international artists, it's a fascinating adventure into an under-exposed art practice. Thirty-three works which range from hand-bound patchwork journals to those that stretch the concept of a book to the extreme (Dawn Hoskin's Grown Captive, a birdcage with threads of tiny discs of text inside falls under this category) are presented in a cosy living room environment.
Strung loosely together under the theme of memory and place, the books in turns amuse, haunt, captivate and baffle with their unique characters. The key to this is that rather than the standard 'do not touch', The Bowery invites you to take a seat and handle, flip and flick through these intriguing works.
This emphasis on what art's about, i.e. to actually engage, is key to The Bowery's ethos. Opened last month, this café, shop and gallery space aims to provide a commercial and artistic platform for Leeds artists and promote and encourage local creativity across the board.
Sandra Taberner, a former fashion designer and teacher, is the lady behind the venture. She was inspired to start up a local creative hub whilst in the artsy Bowery neighbourhood of New York.
“Having lived in Leeds for many years, we felt the arts scene was lacking and not nearly as vibrant as in the surrounding cities,” says Sandra. “Bowery is an area in the East Village which brings together poets, musicians and artists. We want to bring this spirit and something fresh to Leeds and give local artists and the many talented arts graduates from the universities a reason to stay in the city.”
The venue's opening exhibition, Time and Space, occupies one of the two rooms upstairs, the other hosting a solo exhibition by local illustrator Hazel Pybis Potter who creates a whimsical world full of wide-eyed geisha-esque cartoon characters. The downstairs café is a bright inviting space that, as well as doing a good line in homemade cakes, currently features linear abstracts by Michael Walker and 3D paintings by Mike Barr. In the shop front, shelves are well stocked with quirky jewellery and craft ranges by local artists.
The arts and crafts displayed form the basis of the programme of workshops and courses for all ages in a studio upstairs. Evening events such as 'Knit and Natter', music and poetry jams and a monthly book club are also starting up. They seem very determined to get us creating ourselves and supporting local artists.
It's a shame it's not in the city centre in a way. We could do with something like The Bowery to make it more accessible to visitors. It's a persuasive, varied showcase of West Yorkshire's artistic talent and an intelligent yet inclusive approach to showing and selling contemporary arts. Even in its far Headingley location, it's an exciting new destination on the cultural map of Leeds, for visitors and locals alike. Well worth a trip for a look around, to buy a one-off illustration, get involved in a jewellery making workshop, have coffee and a cake, or to get lost in a book that flips the term 'page-turner' on its head.
Time and Space is at The Bowery until 15 August.
54 Otley Road
0113 224 2284