Sunday, June 09, 2024

Haunting Digbeth, drenched in art

I was in Birmingham yesterday for one of the Design Festival talks I was especially interested in (by Territory Studio) and as it was a soothingly sunny, breezy day I went on a good long haunt of my old stomping ground, Digbeth.

When settlers first came to the area we now know as Brum it was Digbeth they started with, and you can feel that in the solidly industrious maze of chimneyed buildings, bond houses and factories clustered around each other. I was there briefly for one night in late April, but since I was there on a regular basis many years ago the ghoulish mask of gentrification has been slapped over much of the area, a process that’s really ramped up since work on HS2 began. Graf and street art, professional and non-pro alike, is being feverishly applied to every un-developed surface, as if the artists can feel in their bones that their time here is almost up.

On the way back to the car I visited the Custard Factory, central in our lives for a long time due to our historic involvement in music, pirate radio, DJing and events, and was unmoored by changes there — I initially couldn’t work out what felt wrong but then I saw it all: the lake in the middle was filled in, the gallery where I had one of my first shows (with Solo One) had been turned into a Laser Quest, and the little bar where we went to the infamous Selfish Cunt gig was now a Pieminister. And the Medicine Bar, where we’d danced (maniacally, to DJ Food and myriad others), DJ’d and handed out myriad flyers? Derelict and shuttered, its immense dragon sculpture replaced by a gaping white wall.

Time marches on and, to mutilate a favourite Dolly Parton quote, one day you wake up to realise it’s been marching all over your memories. But I was filled with appreciation at being there for this great, free creative event (I wanted to do a talk there but was too late to apply; that’ll have to wait for the next one) in a city I still get a buzz from, absolutely drenched in street art and organic graffiti on the walls of buildings designed and built for, and still echoing with, the business of graft — my comfort zone.

Even picked up a scuzzy pirate for the drive home. #castlevale #iykyk

Enjoy the pictures.

Beautiful buildings built for work:

A vintage Will Barras?

Medicine Bar: Before

Medicine Bar: Now

And here's us DJing in that very spot, looking back at the audience!

I was filled with an odd relief that there were still buildings like this to find. With paste-ups!

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Bring The Paint

There was so much to see at the weekend that it took me two days; Bank Holiday Monday I was a husk. 

Leicester’s Bring The Paint festival is organised biennially by Izzy Hoskins and Anthony Overend of Graffwerk (2026 for the next one then) and their paint shop GraffHQ. It’s a phenomenal achievement that shows what can be done when a community pulls together; an abandoned mill that’s’s become a hub of artistic energy and collaboration.

Clusters of artworks are to be found throughout the city so you can visit Leicester and gorge on it all year round. But some are not forever, so make it a summer trip if you can, park up and be sure to scoff down something from Bitsy’s Emporium before you start out via the canal towpath, which itself is alive with colour and humour.

The whole thing revitalised my slightly jaded, tired artist’s mind and reminded me how fortunate I am to live in the area, and to have so many generous and creative people that I call friends — it reminded where I’ve always felt the most comfortable, my whole professional life having never felt like I properly fitted into any one of of the creative cliques or circles — always loitering a bit on the edges of several, where they overlap. Social media’s exhausting, the commercial landscape is exhausting, and Bring The Paint was like a large cup of strong tea with a fat nutritious meal, followed by a hearty nap. 

Artists include: 
Inkie / Kid Acne / Philth / Voyder / N4T4 / Soles / Aches / Ertjwe
Mono / Idle / Smug / Triple / Vamp / Zomby / Epic / Drax / Aper
but for a full list you need to pick up one of the chartreuse-coloured maps they made for the event.

(My own contribution to the first ever Bring The Paint, in 2017, is at the bottom - I managed to get a little space right by the canal and HQ and I had about a day to plan what I was going to be doing!)

Large and fulsome photo dump to follow, because enough words.


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