From New Street to Digbeth

Saturday, October 3rd 2015

Birmingham’s main railway station, New Street, has been the object of a long process of renovation. On several visits to Birmingham, we have observed the work in progress and looked forward to seeing the finished product. The work was officially completed in September of this year and so, today, we took a trip to the famous city to take a look.

Unfortunately, the official picture did not quite accord with the reality. There was still work going on and we could not access all parts of the station. We did our best to get an impression of it and below are some of the photos that I took. The main theme, so to speak, is ‘polished metal’ and the whole of the exterior boasts a mirror finish that reflects the environment around the station.

Birmingham New Street Station

Birmingham New Street Station

Birmingham New Street Station

Birmingham New Street Station

Birmingham New Street Station
Birmingham New Street Station
Exterior views

The interior is less striking and the theme is wavy ceiling beams and striped flooring.

Birmingham New Street Station
Birmingham New Street Station
Interior view

It seems that railway stations today cannot survive simply as transport terminals but need to make extra money by renting out part of their space to commercial and retail interests. Birmingham New Street is no exception and at its heart there is a shopping centre or mall called Grand Central.

Dome, Grand Central
Dome, Grand Central

Here too we encountered builders’ fences obscuring part of the area. The place seems popular to judge by the crowds. The most notable feature is the huge dome covering the central open space or court. This looks impressive but we were struck by the poor finish. Some of the panels had slipped or were peeling.

Piccadilly Arcade
Piccadilly Arcade

Continuing our ramble, we came upon the the picturesque Piccadilly Arcade. Many old cities possess one or more Victorian arcades where ladies and gentleman could perform their shopping expeditions in relatively elegant surroundings. This one is not Victorian, though, and, in fact, was not even built as a shopping arcade. It opened in October 1910 as the Picture House Cinema showing silent films and was transformed into a shopping arcade only in 1926.

Paintings on the ceiling
Paintings on the ceiling

The arcade is lined on both sides with small shops and these suffice to absorb the attention of most of the visitors. Relatively few think to look up and observe the ceiling. Those that do enjoy a surprise. The ceiling is decorated with a set of painted panels showing scenes of urban life but from a very unusual perspective. Here is just one of the panels:

A Year in the Life of the Chinchillas (Part)
A Year in the Life of the Chinchillas (Part)
Click for a larger view

When the arcade was refurbished in 1989, artist Paul Maxfield was commissioned to paint the ceiling. His work is called A Year in the Life of the Chinchillas and depicts the four seasons. The perspective is imaginative in the extreme: you are presented with the scene as though you are in a hole (a grave, perhaps?), looking vertically upwards at the sky with the objects – houses, cranes, people, etc – around the edge of the field of view. It is a striking and innovative technique.

Bullring Indoor Market
Bullring Indoor Market

We paid a visit to the Bullring Indoor Market. Birmingham has several markets and they seem to attract a lot of shoppers.

Open-air Market
Open-air Market

There is also an open-air market with traditional stalls.

We now went to have a look at Digbeth. It gives the impression of a somewhat run-down district but is undergoing redevelopment. It was once an important industrial area, counting Typhoo Tea and Bird’s Custard among its famous names. Many of the old factories have been converted to other purposes (for example, the Bird’s factory is now an arts centre) or are scheduled for demolition. The somewhat dilapidated and unkempt state of the place provides an opportunity for street artists, one that they have not been slow to take up. Below are some of the artworks that I ‘collected’. A few paintings are signed or are by artists whose style I recognize. Where I have identified the artist I have put his or her name under the picture.

Street art in Digbeth

It’s not always clear where one painting ends and another begins. I suspect that here there are at least two paintings, one encroaching on the other.

Street art in Digbeth

This intriguing painting shows a body with parts of the skeleton superimposed on it. Near the head is what appears to be the name ‘SAM’ but whether this is the artist’s signature or another person’s tag added later, I do not know. There are several street artists called Sam.

Street art in Digbeth

Street art in Digbeth

Are these two predominantly blue paintings by the same artist? It would be tempting to think so but I am inclined to think not, given the stylistic differences.

The Green Man
The Green Man
Toin Adams

This is ‘public art’ rather than ‘street art’. By Toin Adams, it is accompanied by this inscription:

“I am inhuman – I belong not to
men and governments.
I have nothing to do with the
creaking machinery of
humanity – I belong to the earth.
I am the green man.
Son, lover and guardian of the
earth goddess.”

Street art in Digbeth
Jimmy.C

This beautiful image occupies space on a wall that is, appropriately enough, just opposite a shop selling paints and other accoutrements for street artists. It is by Jimmy.C

Street art in Digbeth
Dan Kitchener

This the largest painting I saw, extending up the façade of a building to the height of several floors. It is by that master of the wet urban scene, Dan Kitchener aka DANK.

Discreet
Discreet

This painting is by Discreet, whose owls, alone or in pairs, are often accompanied by text, as here.

Street art in Digbeth

A rather intricate abstract, a colourful and attractive example of its kind.

Street art in Digbeth

A somewhat ambiguous work but perhaps that it its attraction.

Street art in Digbeth

The mixture of attitudes and the personality that emanates from this portrait makes it a collector’s item. Note the shadowing that makes it almost 3D.

Street art in Digbeth

This mysterious painting carries Art Deco reminiscences and perhaps recalls the sci-fi creations of the inter-war period.

Street art in Digbeth
Amara por Dios

My final piece resides under bridge over the canal, creating a vivid splash of colour amidst the shadows and dull brickwork. It is by the prolific Amara por Dios who, wherever I go, has been there before me and left one of her strange but strangely beautiful figures.

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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2 Responses to From New Street to Digbeth

  1. WOL says:

    I like the street art much better than I like the railway station. In re the railway station, the word “monstrosity” comes to mind. I think the idea of the reflectivity is so that it will “disappear” into its surroundings. Pity it doesn’t work. The street art, on the other hand, is delightful and bright. I particularly like the little girl in the pink wellies. The murals “A year in the life of the chinchillas” I think are from the chinchilla’s point of view. The perspective seems right. Chinchillas are on the order of guinea pig size, as I recall, but I don’t remember if they burrow or not. If so, these might be a view from the burrow opening. The green man, however, is my favorite. .

    • SilverTiger says:

      Mirror finish as cloak of invisibility? Yes, I see that. I suppose that decorating an establishment of the size and awkward shape of Birmingham New Street Station is always going to be difficult and an exercise in compromise.

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