Saturday, July 23rd 2016
Digbeth is an area of central Birmingham which we have visited before – see Chilly in Birmingham. it is an area in transition. Once heavily industrial, it is now being redeveloped with apartment blocks and shops replacing the old factories and workshops. Many properties stand empty, some in a ruinous state, and this lends a desolate air to some parts but I have no doubt that it will rise up and take on new life. In the meantime, it has proved a fertile area for street artists with new works appearing regularly.
I always photograph this building when I come to Digbeth. Perhaps this is because in the back of my mind the thought occurs that the paintings might have changed in the meantime but I don’t think they have. This building, once a pub and now a music venue and night spot called SUKI 10C, is symbolic of the changes occurring in Digbeth. From being virtually derelict, it has been refurbished and embarked on a lively new career. (See the SUKI 10C Website.)
We rambled around those parts of Digbeth where we expected to find plenty of street art. I will admit to being a bit choosy and to photographing only those works that I like or think have some merit. I am posting some of those I ‘collected’ and hope you find them interesting. Sometimes, the artist has signed a painting or I recognize a particular artist’s style. Where this is the case, I will note the name and provide a link to that artist in my page Street Artists; otherwise I will mark it ‘unsigned’ (as above).
The railway line crosses Floodgate Street by a bridge and in the cave-like arches beneath it there are paintings to be found. The one above is immediately recognizable as work by JimmyC but in any case the artist has signed it.
Still in Floodgate Street, if we had felt we were being watched it wouldn’t have been surprising because, on a wall, was a giant pair of eyes! Not only are the eyes very realistic but the pupils reflect the scene that the artist imagines the eyes are looking at. The work is signed by My Dog Sighs and if you look at his various sites, you will see that he has a particular interest in eyes. (No, I don’t know that the oriental characters say and I’m even unsure what language they belong to.)
This complex work of art on what looks like an old entrance to a building or yard, is unsigned. Like many street artworks, it is difficult to photograph because of the cars and other vehicles that park along the kerb.
The last work I visited in Floodgate Street (though there were probably more) was this one, a rather mysterious piece signed N4T4. The subject’s head is girt about by rings like those around the planet Saturn.
We then passed under the railways bridge, which also includes a bridge over the River Lea, and found the above amusing item. On one of the bridge piers, four radio receiver dishes have been installed. I have no idea what their purpose is but some witty artist has painted the wall behind them to turn them into the objective lenses of four telescopes, a visual pun.
On emerging into Gibb Street, we found another painting by N4T4, even more complex than the previous one. The colours and the lighting give a luminous effect, though I do not know what the subject is.
Off Gibb Street is a square or open area at the foot of residential blocks where there are shops and cafes and also some passageways and corners where you might find street art. The slinky blonde above is by an artist new to me who has an entirely numerical name, 0707. The use of monochrome for the subject against a coloured background is an interesting technique.
We almost missed this one painted on a wall beside a small supermarket away from the main area. It is by Sr. X and achieves its effect from the counterintuitive combination of an apparently happy domesticated couple with the violent implications of a petrol bomb that they are lighting. A very striking piece of imagery.
We next went to the large car park situated off High Street Deritend behind the old Bird’s Custard Factory. This is a happy area for street artists who not only paint the walls but have even managed to press the chimney into service! It’s always worth paying a call here to see whether there is anything new and there usually is.
I ‘collected just a couple of items on this trip, firstly, this happy-looking skull, perhaps happy because he has recovered his eyes and tongue, by The Real Dill, and…
…secondly, This monster occupying a corner and thereby seeming to be three-dimensional. I don’t know whether it is an imaginary bug or monster or perhaps a virus, but its sharp teeth suggest is it savage and dangerous though it has characteristics of cartoon figures. I say it is unsigned but it is possible I missed a signature tucked away in the far corner.
On the corner of Allison Sreet with the main road, at this point called simply Digbeth, we found this large mural by Dan Kitchener adorning the curved front of premises belonging to Apart’Hotel. Dan has become well known and travels widely. As well as practising street art, he also receives commissions from businesses for murals such as this one.
This is Digbeth Police Station, also on a corner of Allison Street. It is an imposing building with a prominent clock tower, a feature that I think is unusual in a police station. Not much seems to be known about this building beyond the fact that it dates from 1911 and was designed, not by a professional architect, but by the then city engineer, Henry Edward Stilgoe (1867-1943). In the early 20th century, many Irish immigrants came to live in Digbeth and the area was considered rough and difficult to police. In compensation, as it were, no few Irishmen joined the police and proved their worth in keeping the peace. The station still fulfils its original purpose.
We found this portrait by Birmingham artist Annatomix in Dudley Street. I imagine everyone would now recognize the person depicted whether or not a fan of his music and songs but, just in case not, the artist has added the name ‘BOWIE’. The painting has been tagged by some other person.
This object, set in a wall at the intersection of Hinckley Street and Dudley Street made me laugh. It reminded me of René Magritte and his famous painting subtitled Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe). (See here for more information.) And of course, I had to try it just to see: I pressed the flap but it didn’t move. It has presumably been immobilized.
We walked up Livery Street towards Snow Hill Station and there found the old Great Western Railway station entrance, now bricked up, sadly. What is now called Snow Hill opened as a GWR station in 1852, when I assume this entrance was made. Before eventually becoming known as Snow Hill, the station had several names, one of which was Livery Street Station. Over the door we can still see, finely modelled, GWR’s coat of arms. This was made by combining the coat of arms of London (with its motto DOMINE DIRIGE NOS) with that of Bristol (whose motto is VIRTUTE ET INDUSTRIA). The two halves of the shield display the shield elements of London and Bristol, respectively.
We approached the station and found the forecourt decorated with a botanical locomotive, a pretty and amusing memento of the age of steam when the station came into being.