Issue 459
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"Try not to kick that one over, Tom" says Owen de Visser pointing at a painting behind me. "I've just sold it and could really do with it staying in one piece."

Owen runs Lux, an independent commercial art gallery on Edgbaston's Greenfield Crescent. It's a bright, light-filled space with art all over the walls. It's probably the most relaxed art gallery I've ever been in and that's testament to Owen who always has an air of chill about him — even when times are tough. And times are tough.
Lux Gallery, Edgbaston
The sheer volume of work on display speaks both in real terms and metaphorically of the problem Owen faces alongside all indy art galleries in the city. There is an abundance of artistic creativity in Birmingham, but a lack of art buying. The balance is all out of whack and the consequences could prove dire.

That's why Owen and the owners of Moseley-based gallery, Seventh Circle (Marie and Chez), and Bournville's Purple Gallery (Richard and Julia), are joining forces and fronting up to the hard facts, together. They've combined to form BIG (Birmingham Independent Galleries) and they're not hanging about on action either.  
Here's why. There are fewer independent commercial galleries in Birmingham, now, than at any other point in the past 20 years, and that pattern doesn't play out nationally. In fact, countrywide, between 2010 and 2019, the number of commercial art galleries grew by almost a third. We are bucking the trend in a bad way.

Drilling down further, where London has about 850 independent commercial art galleries and Manchester has 18, we have six. Some way behind both Bristol and Brighton that have significantly smaller populations.
But Birmingham's a city with working class roots, right? These numbers aren't that surprising? Maybe. Maybe not. Our average wage is above Manchester, above Brighton, above Bristol. The buying power is here, but the buying isn't happening at the rate it should.

"I think I speak for all of us," says Owen "when I say we love Birmingham. I've seen creatives leave in search of better opportunities, but we're not going anywhere. We've got a battle on our hands, but we're buddying up. Strength in numbers."
Purple Gallery, Bournville
We're now sat outside independent pizzeria Smoke + Ash, Owen's next door neighbour. The owners of those three galleries are in convivial form. Typical Brummies, they're joking and chuckling and sharing shop stories over slices of Neapolitan goodness, in the sun. The subject for discussion isn't the most cheerful but they meet it with an optimism. They all agree that revenue is down, down a lot, on last year and that the cost of living is the culprit. But rather than simply try and ride it out, they'll tackle it head on.

"It's time we realise we aren't in competition with one another" says Marie. "Sure there are some similarities from gallery to gallery, but on the whole each has its own feel. Its own tastes, its own styles. We're actively ensuring we support one another wherever possible. If we don't have the right thing for a customer in Moseley, we now know what Owen has in Edgbaston and what Richard has in Bournville. We can signpost people to them. And with a combined website, combined social media account and combined marketing budgets we can cover off so much more." 
The goal for BIG is to keep much of the city's art spend in Brum. To join their collective — and they are looking for more members — an independent gallery must agree to house no less than 50% art from West Midlands artists. 

"Not only is there less art spend in Birmingham than there statistically should be," says Owen "But much of it is spent on, say, New York artists selling out of London. That's madness when we are living in the same neighbourhoods as wildly talented Brummies. We should be trying to keep the expenditure here so we can not only survive as gallery owners and artists, but thrive." 
A very real threat to the survival of independent commercial galleries are the chains. They're not as easy to spot as chain restaurants, but they're there and they're gobbling up great swathes of the revenue. You'll find them in plush shopping malls, convention centres and in purpose built retail units. What Lux, Seventh Circle and Purple need, and what they're going to carve out for themselves, is a similar consumer understanding that we all have about dining out.

"We all know that if we don't use our independent restaurants," says Chez "We lose them. It's no different with galleries but the awareness isn't quite there yet as to what is and isn't an independent gallery. We need to educate on that.

"We're sat here eating hand-crafted pizza, made in an independent restaurant with love, right? And 200 metres up the road Dominos or Papa Johns are selling identikit pizzas for the same price. And I'm not saying there's no place for Dominos and I'm not saying there's no place for chain galleries. But I am saying, absolutely, that they don't show the love and the same spirit that we show. If we can achieve the same mindset that the hospitality industry has — the concept of keeping it independent where possible — our job is halfway done. And what we have in our galleries compared to what the chains have, well, it's of comparable or, frankly, far better quality. If you're looking for an affordable investment, it's more likely to come from us than them. This is the message we need to get out there." 
"It's not only that sort of awareness we need to work on, either," adds Richard. "It's obvious that Brummies want to shop local but the truth of the matter is lots of people simply don't know that our galleries are where they are. Purple Gallery is 17 years old," he says of his Mary Vale Road spot "And still, weekly, someone wanders in saying 'I had no idea this was here'.

"We're hidden away because we can't afford giant viewing spaces in city centre locations... but half the charm, surely, is that we are dotted about in the suburbs. If there's one positive we can take from COVID it's that we all fell in love with our neighbourhoods again. We need to harness that."

Quirky, cookie, homely and warm, their galleries are poles apart from the colder, more sales driven, city centre spots that are taking bigger and bigger bites out of their bottom lines. Sure sales are key to all successful businesses, but you won't feel the hard sell at Lux, at Seventh Circle, at Purple. There's a level of relaxation within them, a community spirit that welcomes the art curious as warmly as the art buyer. 
"Of course we need to make sales," says Marie "But we also acknowledge that spending £3000 on an original piece simply isn't within everyone's buying power. If you want to come in just for a look, please do. If you want to come in and buy a £30 print — that's great. We realise that those first steps into art are important and hopefully when you get it framed and on your wall you'll feel so proud of it that you'll be back next year, maybe with £100 to spend. And so on. If we're getting art into homes where there is no art, we're doing our job."
Each gallery has picked just one of the dozens of artists they represent to highlight their commitment to local, but you'll find so many more if you pop your head in and say hi. Whichever gallery you choose they will enrich your day, guaran-damn-teed. 
Mike Allison at Purple Gallery
Mike was born in Whalley, Lancashire in 1970 and now works and resides in the West Midlands. He completed a BA Honours Degree in Fine Art at Winchester School of Art in 1992 and a Masters in Fine Art at De Montfort University in 2005. Mike is a full time printmaker, specialising in wood engraving, linoprint and intaglio collagraph techniques. In 2015, Mike began a printmaking project called 100 Views of Birmingham. The project was initially inspired by Hiroshige’s 100 views of Edo and Mike was attracted by the scale and professional commitment such a project would require. In some of Mike's prints, Hiroshige’s influence is evident in the choice of subject or use of composition but influences and ideas are also appropriated from other contemporary photographers, film-makers and printmakers. More
Gent 48 at Seventh Circle
A long-standing member of Birmingham’s finest “Graffiti Gentry,” Joshua Billingham, aka Gent 48, carries the lofty title, and even loftier reputation, for being one of Birmingham’s most talented and prolific graffiti writers. Gent is well known, locally and internationally for his distinctive street art pieces and public art murals featuring his instantly recognisable style, a style firmly rooted and directly connected to street art and its culture. Caricature style faces and figures, bold colours and multiple layers create depth in his work, distort perception, subvert reality, through his signature blend and fade technique. Viewing his original artwork up close and personal, has a whole different kind of impact compared to the works that adorn brick and mortar. He is creating work that still has the essence of the streets he loves, but these pieces are works of self-analysis with an element of catharsis. More
Jasmina Ajzenkol at Lux
Jasmina is a ceramist living and working in Birmingham. She creates one-off pieces of ceramic art in the form of vessels inspired by nature and life forms. The silhouettes and contours of shells and underwater creatures inspire the shapes. Meanwhile, it’s the rhythm of the landscape, such as the patterns created by wind blowing across the sand or the rhythmic gradation of the beach from sand to gravel arranged in carefully sorted bands by the tide, that influences the texture, colour and surface. All pieces are hand built from coils using stoneware clay, and the surfaces are textured to create different levels and depths. These are enhanced by the subsequent use of oxides and dry glaze. More
Birmingham Independent Galleries has a website here and they're on Twitter and Instagram too.


The escalatingly brilliant Simpsons 30th birthday celebrations continue with perhaps their coolest concoction so far. To mark the end of their third decade they're serving an anniversary three-course menu for both lunch and dinner from September 1 to 30 that pays tribute to some of their best dishes from day one to now.

The moments of retro brilliance will be given modern flourishes by the skilled Simpsons kitchen team and you could be dining on it, for free, in two simple steps. To help roar in their 30th, Simpsons are offering two I Choose Birmingham readers a table for two, with the full menu on the house as well as a welcome drink per person and a bottle of wine. To be in with a chance of winning all you need to do is subscribe to the Simpsons newsletter (which has regular updates throughout the year on some of their very best deals and dos) right here. Just click and sign up! A winner will be picked at random at midday, August 30.

Chef director, Luke Tipping, and the team have spent the past few weeks reading through old menus and reminiscing about the early days. They've devised a look back menu with each dish chosen because it has a special memory for the restaurant, whether it be a firm favourite amongst the regulars or because it has a happy association like the Crème Caramel, Red Wine Pear, Chocolate Sorbet which was Luke’s dessert when he won Midland Chef of the Year in 1999.

Other dishes that will be making a return will be the Timbale of Cured Salmon, Lobster, Crab starter (pictured) and the Duo of Lamb main course served with apricots, cracked aromatic wheat and almonds. 

You can subscribe to their newsletter (and automatically be entered) here, browse the full menu here and check out the competition T&C here and here. Best of luck! 


Edgbaston Stadium fireworks displays have long been the benchmark by which all other Birmingham whizz-bangery is judged. And so it's with a sense of wide-eyed excitement I bring news of their first ever Ibiza Classics Fireworks Party.  

The usual, family friendly fireworks will of course be taking place, November 4 (tickets here) but the night before is where the remix action lies, particularly if you've ever made the almost compulsory summer pilgrimage to Ibiza in years gone by.

Set expertly in time with hundreds of pounds of pyro expect classic dance anthems and bangin’ tu-tu-tu-tu-tuuuuunes. And this isn't just a soundtrack, the evening comes complete with an amazing live performance by world-famous orchestra, DJs and vocalists from Symphonic Ibiza.

As well as the muzak and the ooh-ing and ahh-ing there's an on-site fun fair, street-food, laser lighting and all the other bells and whistles you have come to expect from an Edgbaston stadium celebration. Visit where tickets are £25


Who needs the Camden Roundhouse when live music is coming to Roundhouse Birmingham? Taking on Heritage Week in a big way, Roundhouse will welcome Sofar Sounds on September 12: a night of discovery and entertainment in their iconic curved courtyard, when three local artists take to the stage with stripped back acoustic sets. The twist? You won’t know who’s performing until the day.

Sofar Sounds transform spaces into captivating venues for secret, live music shows. They’re a global music community, connecting artists and audiences through live music and bringing people together to create a space where music matters. With an ear for undiscovered sounds, some well-known names have performed at their events when starting out, including Billie Ellish, Leon Bridges and Hozier.

The following day, and for three days after, Roundhouse Birmingham have a host of other events and activities as part of Birmingham Heritage Week. From a nighttime take on their award-winning Bustling Birmingham kayak tour, Bustling Birmingham by Night, to brand new walking tours – including a short tour that encourages you to use all your senses, Sensing the Roundhouse and Beyond, they have something for everyone. There's even a More Canals than Venice tour, where you’ll learn about the historical importance of Birmingham’s canal system and legacy; from industrial revolutions and becoming the city of 1000 trades through to how they’re used today.

To see all the events happening at the Roundhouse during Birmingham Heritage Week, head here.
The splendid Eat Vietnam is hosting a vintage market with bánh mì, coffee, vinyl and more, Sept 3. Details 

The line-up for this year's Birmingham Literature Festival has been announced and tickets are on sale now. It runs Oct 5 to 8 at The Rep, The Roundhouse and The Exchange.  

Comedian Ed Byrne will play Town Hall in February and tickets went on sale yesterday. £31

Admit it, you've always wanted to see a World's Strongest Man competition. Giants Live comes to Utilita Arena on Sept 7 of next year and tickets go on sale tomorrow (Aug 25). More

One week today Grace + James of Kings Heath are throwing a Spanish Jamón Party. From 6pm they'll be serving a carved, whole 75% Bellota jamón alongside Spanish snacks, tapas, wines and sherries. Details

And Chicken Fest will land at Digbeth's The Bond, on Sept 2. 
WORDS: Tom Cullen

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“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

Thomas Merton

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