Paintings of Burley

This week on the Secret Library we hear from guest author Jonathan Hooper. Jonathan is an incredible painter, who is here to share some of his paintings of Burley and the inspirations behind them. You can see more of Jonathan’s artwork and process on his website.

I am a painter – my subject is the architecture of Leeds and the suburbs to the west and north-west of the city. This article is about my general method, and some recent paintings and drawings of Burley.

Burley, view over rooftops towards St. Matthias Church
This photograph from Leeds Libraries’ archive gives a good impression of the character of Burley, with red-brick terraced housing on the side of the Aire valley.

I find my subjects by walking through the city, taking photographs and making notes. In the studio I select, crop, and print the photographs in black and white, using them to make watercolour drawings to develop ideas for paintings. The colour comes from memory and imagination rather than photographs. 

The terraced houses in Burley make an interesting subject for painting because of the symmetry and variation within each house, from house to house, and street to street. Some of these differences are from the houses as originally built, and some are from changes made since: dormer windows, extensions, changes in doors and windows. I have lived in various parts of Leeds for thirty years, and the familiarity I have developed with the city’s character, atmosphere, and architecture is crucial to my work. 

The first paintings in the Burley series were of a terrace on Cardigan Road at the corner with Cardigan Lane (strictly speaking in Hyde Park rather than Burley). Working from photographs I made watercolour drawings, initially in red, then moving to cooler colours. I made the paintings in greens and blues but tried to keep the tonal textural effects from the red drawings:

Houses on Cardigan Road 2021
Jonathan Hooper Houses on Cardigan Road 2021 watercolour on paper 30x42cm
Jonathan Hooper Houses on Cardigan Road 2021 oil on board 61x76cm

The later paintings were of the Burley Lodge Road, Stanmore Hill, Lumley Road and St Michael’s Lane areas. In these I was interested in the views of parallel terraces behind each other. On Stanmore Hill, the terraces run along the contours of the hill, one above another; St Michael’s Lane is interesting because the allotments opposite, the location at top of the hill, and the long straight road together provide a range of interesting views of the ends of the terraces along it.  

Jonathan Hooper Houses on St Michael’s Lane 2021 oil on canvas 61x76cm
Jonathan Hooper Houses on Stanmore Hill 2021 oil on canvas 60x97cm

While making these paintings, I found it helpful to look back at old photographs of the area in the Libraries’ Leodis photographic archive: it is important to me to understand the social and architectural history of the city as well as how it appears today. These two 1939 photographs of terraced houses in Burley show many of the familiar features of terraced housing in the area, as in my paintings: the arrangement of sash windows; details around windows, doors, and roof; bays on some houses; steps up to the front door; a low front wall with iron railings and gate.

Lumley Walk nos. 5 & 7,       
Burley Lodge Road nos. 59, 61,

You can see more of my paintings and drawings of Burley, and more about my working process on my website.

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