"The independent bar and restaurant scene in Stoke isn't the biggest," says graphic designer James Allen, 31 "so when I moved to Birmingham it was a real eye-opener. I fell in love with it immediately." Self-taught in the ways of digital art James started drawing when his passion for gaming and, more specifically, the Final Fantasy series inspired him to pick up a pencil and start sketching out characters.
He studied art at A-Level but never followed it through into anything more, work-wise, until last week, when he stepped away from the Land Rover production line for the last time. Now James handles all digital designs and the other bells and whistles that come with social media account management for Brum-based Bab Social, headed up by his partner Amy.
"Amy introduced me to Birmingham's independent food and drink scene and it resonated hard and fast. I'd long been an admirer of the work of Matheus Urbanowicz, a Polish artist who did a fantastic series of watercolours focussing on Tokyo shopfronts. His work and my new found love of Birmingham indies combined and I started sketching some of the venues we visited."
"The shopfronts here in the UK, compared to Tokyo at least, can be a little mundane, so I started to let my imagination inform the illustrations. I'd get inspiration from the atmosphere inside, or from the sorts of plates or cocktails they serve, and the artworks would evolve from there. They invariably never end up how I think they will. They just find their way to something completely different."
James has, this week, opened his online shop here. You can follow his work on Instagram and, if you're a venue owner that may like your frontage to receive his inimitable touch, you can direct message him about commissions there.
BOOK NOW: MUSEUM COLLECTION CENTRE
My one man war waged on the erroneous use of the phrase 'hidden gem' continues, this week with an example of a rare occasion where it absolutely is warranted. Like Hangar 51 in the Indiana Jones quadrilogy only with, presumably, fewer munitions and alien-related discoveries, Birmingham's Museum Collection Centre is one of the city's genuine off the beaten track jewels, opening very rarely to the public. The colossal 1.5-hectare Nechells-based site holds 80 per cent of Birmingham Museums’ stored collections — over 800,000 individual objects from tiny moths to Second World War bin lorries — all under one roof. I went yesterday for the first time in my life and it was every bit as astounding as I'd hoped — check this video out (soz about the weird heavy breathing) for just a snippet of the experience. The Open Day will also include a pop-up shop, meet the experts, curator tours, conservation demonstrations, family friendly events, object handling and more. The event, on September 17, is free and will book up — as it always does — very, very quickly. You have my word that this one won't disappoint you. Unbelievable. Free
HERITAGE OPEN DAYS OPEN SOON
Some cracking West Mids venues are part of the National Trust's Heritage Open Days this year. From September 9 to 18 and totally free (even at those places that usually charge) there are some humdingers involved including The Bournville Almshouse Trust's Quadrangle on Mary Vale Road (above). Built in 1898 by Ewan Harper for Bournville co-founder Richard Cadbury, this is a rare opportunity to visit the single-storeyed alms houses. Richy C wished to provide homes for retired Cadbury workers and others, aged over 60 and on lower incomes, which led directly to the development of the 33 bungalows that occupy this site. Elsewhere tours will run at Highbury on Yew Tree Road — the home built by politician Joseph Chamberlain where you'll also find Shakespeare's Folio, borrowed for the duration. Further afield how about a guided walk though the War Graves at Cannock Chase War Cemetery and German Military Cemetery? Details
TEENY TINY BAR
Ahead of their September launch, The Cocktail Club (formerly known as The London Cocktail Club and wisely renamed) will be hosting a two-day pop up inside Temple Phone Box (pictured). ‘The World’s Smallest Cocktail Bar’ (not sure if that's been signed off by The Guinness Book of Records, mind) will run from September 2 to 3 to mark the launch of their biggest venue to date at 31 Temple Street, opposite Flight Club. The booth, found by The Old Joint Stock, will be open to all, with no booking necessary from 3pm to 8pm. They'll be serving three signature cocktails, including Jam Jar Daiquiri, Pornstar Martini and Bramley Apple Smash.
A SPLASH 'O' COLOUR
Sending digital high fives in the direction of Pickle Illustration's Lauren and Liv who are three signal boxes into their six box decoration project, along the Shirley stretch of the Stratford Road. Commissioned by Solihull Council the pair are bringing a spot of floral beauty to the very (very) mundane, with each wildflower design featuring hidden ‘minibeasts’ for children to find. You can follow their progress on Instagram and Twitter.
THE SLIDE OF YOUR LIFE?
Don't do it, but you can go down quite the website wabbit warren if you want to read theories on what the Fight Club penguin really meant when he waddled on screen and simply said "slide". It's unlikely it was referring to Brum's Big Splash, a 60-metre waterslide that arrives on Central Street (that bit that runs between the two wings of Bullring) tomorrow, as part of the Birmingham Weekender festival.
In total over 100 free events will take place at Bullring & Grand Central, the New Street Station concourse, Birmingham Markets and 1000 Trades Square on Saturday and Sunday including a mixture of dance, film, music, installations and performances. But the centrepiece of the cultural shindiggery, produced by Birmingham Hippodrome, surely has to be the belly-based, lilo tobogan, the first tranche of free tickets for which went like the proverbial hotcakes, but with another wave likely to be made available tomorrow — keep your eye on Hippodrome and Bullring's social channels to be quick on the booking trigger. Bristol did something similar in 2014 and this footage suggests it was quite the giggle.
Another huge highlight will be the Dutch installation de Relaxerette, a large-scale structure where audience members can listen to music, poetry and stories in hammocks which are gently lifted from the ground. No booking is required for this one — just head over to Rotunda Square (at the foot of Rotunda) between midday and 8pm this Saturday or midday and 5pm this Sunday.
Special mention should also go to Brum's resident art enfant terrible, Tat Vision, who will be unveiling a statue outside All Bar One (New Street Station) of, and I can't believe I'm typing this, the four lads above who went viral having had this photo taken in the same spot back in 2020. Perhaps the most famous of the hundreds of memes that came from their now legendary snap was this sea shanty viral. Tat's offering to them will be made using "mannequins, papier-mâché and very tight jeans," said the artist himself. "I'm making a tribute to those mighty fellas," he continued "just like Greek statues of old. It'll remain there forever I reckon." It won't. Full programme
LAST CHANCE: LOST OBJECTS
If you've not been, now really is last chance saloon to visit the extra-extra-ordinary Found Cities, Lost Objects: Women in the City at Birmingham Museum's Gas Hall. It's the sort of wildly engaging, immediately eye-catching, discussion-inducing exhibition you’d expect to see in the White Cube or the Serpentine and it'll vanish from the city on September 4.
It's curated by Turner Prize-winning artist and cultural activist Lubaina Himid CBE who encourages visitors to view the city through the eyes of female artists. It acknowledges the privileges which allow some to roam freely, while also considering the boundaries that may curb the experiences of others. This is an exhibition with conversations between audiences and artists at its heart, exchanging observations, memories and imaginings to give us all a greater sense of self and consider our own relationships with the city.
Elizabeth Wright, for example, often investigates mass-produced consumer goods in her sculptures, but makes the familiar seem strange and distant. With her Pizza Delivery Moped, for example, it's enlarged to 145% of its original size. It'll stop you dead in your tracks.
Possibly the centrepiece of the exhibition is Tai Shani's Dark Continent: Semiramis (top). This work asks us to envision a post-patriarchal city. The scene set to the right of the hall as you enter was the setting for a 12-part performance series where each episode focuses on one of the characters of an allegorical ‘City of Women’.
Lee Bul's extraordinary After Bruno Taut (above) hangs from the ceiling, suspended like a chandelier, where its crystal, glass and acrylic beads play with the natural light to activate the space. The work is one of a series created by the artist that reflect on the failings of utopian optimism, as characterised by architect of yesteryear, Bruno Taut.
My highlight, perhaps predictably, is Lucy McLauchlan's Expressive Deviant Phonology. Brummie Lucy paints female forms onto large-scale public buildings, like the Central Library (RIP). In this work, stationary art shows women’s eyes staring at us, returning the male gaze that often dominates in public settings, while the Central Library is torn down via video screened onto the walls, her work going with it. Marking the end of this outstanding exhibition is an in-person talk by Lubaina, with an expert panel, on September 3 (£5).
Hong Kong food stars Blow Water now have bricks and mortar in the King's own Heath with walk-ins welcome from Sept 8, while bookings are now open for new Custard Factory cocktail heaven Passing Fancies. —
From now until September 4 education workers can enjoy free entry to Twycross Zoo ahead of the new school term. Details —
As the season comes to a head there are still a few tickets remaining for the Birmingham Phoenix's final home fixture of The Hundred, on Sunday. Let's pack Edgbaston. — Beer Central Festival returns for its third year, Sept 16 and 17, at the Tea Works in Digbeth. —
The Photography Show will be at the NEC Sept 17 to 20 and you can *snap* up tickets here. Huh-huh-huh. No don't unsubscribe! —
Oktoberfest takes place in Digbeth's Luna Springs every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from, oddly, September 15 to October 1. Tickets —
Still no idea which one the Utilita Arena is but Cirque Du Soleil will need to know as they'll be performing Corteo there for four days in October.
It would be Cirque Du So Lame to miss out, am I right folks? Folks?
WORDS: Tom Cullen
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Indiana Jones: "He's got a two day head start on you, which is more than he needs. Brody's got friends in every town and village from here to the Sudan, he speaks a dozen languages, knows every local custom, he'll blend in, disappear, you'll never see him again. With any luck, he's got the grail already."
[Cut to busy market in the Middle East, Brody wearing bright suit and white hat, sticking out like sore thumb] Marcus Brody: Uhhh, does anyone here speak English?