Some of the most interesting Brummies, I think, are those that find themselves in worlds that might be considered luxuriant but they never buy into them. They maintain a Brummie realism and down-to-Earth charm. Michelin-starred chef Brad Carter is one, poet and actor Benjamin Zephaniah another. And Reuben Colley ticks that box squarely and with relish. Fine art educated and a master of oil on canvas there is utter beauty in his paintings, but his work will always remain informed by the city he grew up in. In his latest collection, Skate Park, he has created, perhaps, his most engagingly jarring pieces to date.
When did you start this collection?
The concept came about three and a half years ago. Way back then I maybe painted somewhere in the region of 30 skate park pieces but I felt they just weren’t quite there yet, so I parked it and found other things to do in between. People who saw them thought they were great but I thought they were a little two-dimensional. I knew it had the potential to be a really serious body of work, something I could get my teeth into. But the first drafts were too literal and sometimes you need to take a break and come back to it. What I found was they needed more manipulation of the paint. Some needed loose and aggressive brush strokes and some needed more considered applications. Personally, as an artist, I don’t want to be restricted to one style of application. That’s so boring. Painting needs to be expressive.
Is leaving art for months or even years and coming back to it common?
It’s how I was always taught. Serious artists that I know operate that way, yeah. You need to sit and live with the work if it’s not flowing like you may want. You evolve somewhat — it takes time to notice things, I guess. Perhaps it’s as simple as that. The art world today is very instant. There’s a lot of commercial galleries where it seems to be a production line — churning art out — but I think that contradicts what art is. Art should be a struggle, which is why a lot of those 36 original paintings got painted over.
You reuse the canvas?
Oh yeah. I enjoyed working over the brush marks from the previous iterations. They often give the covering piece a new dimension. It’s all about trying to breakdown the barriers of what people might consider is ‘normal’ painting.
So underneath most of this collection is another painting?
There could be four underneath. You know when something’s right. You get that feeling. And you don’t stop going until you feel it.
You’re going to say no, but do you ever feel like saying to yourself: “oh that’ll do.”
[Laughing] No. It’s not in my nature. If I’m not happy with a painting I start again for me. Not for anybody else. So I can feel at ease.
So is there a cathartic release when you finish a painting?
Erm… I felt good when I finished the collection, but not necessarily when finishing individual paintings. I feel content when one is finished but it’s not a rush of catharsis. Painting tends to be either going well or going badly and that doesn’t tend to align with when you finish one or are midway through.
Did you skate as a kid?
I did. I started skating at Handsworth Grammar. There was an after school club. I lived in Hodge Hill back then and I got into it quite seriously — started going to the ramps at Birmingham Wheels. I guess from 12 to 17 I skated every day, taking a skateboard with me everywhere I went. I still have a load of them at home — they’re life memories things like that, aren’t they? Important stuff.
So was this a trip down memory lane for you?
Sort of. But I never really stopped swinging a glance at a ramp whenever I saw one, whatever age I was. So the collection feels more current than you might think. But I hadn’t really thought about painting them until, like I said, three and a half years ago. It sort of surprised me that I hadn’t had the idea of painting them before then. I remember the moment that it came to me to do this, actually. I was driving home for the gallery and it was absolutely bucketing it down. I drove past a skatepark at Perry Barr [Autumn Ramp, above] and it was completely empty because of the weather. But it came to life for me in that state. It’s sort of ironic that I found the life in the park when nobody was using it. When it was obsolete. I started noticing reflections, the autumnal colours. I started taking photos and thinking of how many of these parks I know from my youth. From then, whenever it was raining, I would head out to another park and get another body of reference. Chelmsley Wood, Bromford, Kingstanding. It’s something that could have kept going and going.
Presumably the collection isn’t only appealing to those who have history in skating?
I hope not. Oddly enough I don’t see this collection as being about skateboarding. I feel like these monuments are almost like sculptural installations. Almost Brutalist, aren’t they? I love the juxtaposition of the shocking shapes of the ramps versus the natural background of the park. It’s that range of spectrum that attracted me.
You’re often drawn to things that most people wouldn’t describe as traditionally beautifully. How come?
Beauty is of importance to me in a painting but so is a sprinkling of the unconventional. I mean, the environment I grew up in, here in Birmingham, doesn’t necessarily lend itself to traditional beauty. Inner city Brum with the seasons and the elements rolling through it, is very different to out in the countryside. I feel very familiar capturing the places I grew up in. There’s a greyness to this city that I really love. It’s beautiful to me. If something is twee or chocolate boxy, that feels to me like false beauty. It’s the architectural equivalent of botox. We’re straight-forward people, us Brummies, and hopefully there’s a straight-forwardness here. You soak up your surroundings, don’t you? Your life experiences. And as an artist they often come back out.
And just as much as these won’t necessarily attract just skaters, is there a hope that it might tap into an audience that don’t normally engage with art?
Absolutely. Nothing would make me happier than for a load of new faces to come through the doors of the gallery, to take a look.
Chronologically speaking this collection spanned lockdown. Is some of the loneliness we experienced in lockdown coming through?
Honestly? Probably not. Being an artist can be quite a solitary existence. You’re in the studio a lot and, man, I’ve been doing it for 25 years. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy it though. I could be painting people, that’s less solitary but I wouldn’t have this appreciation I have for light and weather and scenery, and this sense of place.
How long does one take to paint?
Well that varies a lot but one can take eight months maybe. Working with oils and using layering techniques you don’t want to disturb the layer below. When the paint’s going on nice and thick it can take three weeks just to dry, before coming back to it. It’s a patience game. That’s the discipline.
Last time we spoke, two years ago, you said you’re always asking yourself questions and that perhaps life would be quieter if you could stop. Have you managed that?
No. You better yourself by being self-critical. And I’m not just talking about as an artist, I’m talking about as a person. Realising your own faults is key to life.
What happens now? Do you stop painting for a bit and relax.
I’m always seeing points of interest in things and, for as long as that’s the case, I’ll always be painting. Besides, painting helps me relax.
Oh really? So it’s not like how you hear that the last thing a chef wants to do when they get home is cook?
Well I dare say some chefs find cooking relaxing — maybe if it’s someone else’s recipe, not theirs’? I’m emulating a Monet right now and I find that very calming. Replicating the brushstrokes. It’s an escape from my own work. I don’t have to think about what I’m painting and why. Monet’s already done that for me.
And finally if I handed you a skateboard right now, could you show me a trick.
Absolutely. It’s just like riding a bike…
The exhibition is free to attend at Colley Ison Gallery on Colmore Row and runs until October 15. Prices for signed editions start at £300. There will also be hand-finished pieces where the graffiti can be personalised. These start at £2000. You can get 10% off skatepark editions (not originals) with the code ichoose10 when buying online. Check out the promotional video here.
50% OFF LUNCH OR DINNER AT NEW SKY RESTAURANT
Congratulations on opening this email and double congratulations on reading this article. Your Thursday just became cooler than the other side of the pillow. Orelle, the highly (and I mean *highly*) anticipated 24th floor restaurant at 103 Colmore Row opens its doors October 14 and they're offering 50% off food to a set amount of I Choose Birmingham readers for the duration of a soft launch period.
Taking inspiration from the French words for ‘gold’ (or) and ‘her’ (elle) — Orelle's double-height beauty windows will offer extraordinary 360-degree panoramic views across Brum. But it ain't no one-trick-pony. The kitchen will be run by Chris Emery, who joins following positions at The Alice in Oxford and Jason Atherton’s Michelin-starred restaurants, Pollen Street Social in London and The Clocktower in New York. So probably quite good then.
Offering a contemporary take on classic French recipes, Emery’s menu has been designed to showcase the best of British produce, and celebrate the stories behind locally-sourced ingredients. Dishes include blackberry cured ‘Truite’ for starter; ‘Porcelet’ suckling pig (which is where you'll find me) and ‘Citrouille’ tagliatelle for mains. Alongside the menu (which you can read here) is an extensive list of wines, spirits and more than 20 cocktails that have been created by Tiago Bastos – who previously worked at the The Grand Hotel and The Edgbaston. The signature Orelle cocktail, ‘Gold 75’, features Tanqueray 10, Choya Yuzu, fresh lemon and Taittinger, and it's Marie Curie-level genius.
Orelle’s interior pays tribute to the site’s heritage as the former NatWest House, whilst drawing influence from the Jewellery Quarter. The restaurant also showcases a hand-painted mural by local artist, Anita Roye, that will blow you away. Orelle is the first venture in the Midlands for hospitality group, D&D London, joining its portfolio of more than 40 restaurants, bars and a hotel in the UK, Paris and New York.
Anyway, you've stuck with me up to here so here's the pay-off, and it's a goody. Orelle will have 50 lunch and 50 dinner covers available each day for the entire soft launch period (October 6 to 12), exclusively for I Choose Birmingham readers and, during that time, it's 50% off food (not drink). By my admittedly weak maths that's 700 meals, all at an outrageous half price. They won't do this again.
To book please call the restaurant's reservation line on 0121 716 8186 quoting the I Choose Birmingham offer. Please have the email address with which you are subscribed to the e-magazine to hand, just in case. Bookings for this offer cannot be made online or on the D&D app, and the maximum table size is six. Bon apple teeth mon amis! Facebook, Instagram, website
ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING
You ‘orrible lot love a grisly death story, don’t you? Capitalising on our shared fascination for death and conspiracy, Dr Richard Shepherd – one of the names in the forensic pathology world – is on the second leg (no pun intended) of his tour, Unnatural Causes, and it’s coming to Town Hall on Tuesday October 25.
Like a real-life Whodunnit? Shepherd will take you through the details of a real investigation, where you’ll be privy to the machinations of the human body, and the twists and turns of natural and unnatural causes, dropping breadcrumbs throughout. The interval queues will fly by as you deliberate the details of the first half, while the second half of the show then turns to an audience Q&A. So by the end, you’ll be invited to conclude for yourself if the subject in the story was victim of a terrible murder or something slightly less sinister.
Known for working on some of the most high-profile enquiries – from Princess Diana to Harold Shipman, Bloody Sunday to UK fatalities during 911 – Dr Richard Shepherd has lived his life surrounded by death. But he’s pretty chipper about it all, candid about his own professional breakdown and honest about the fascination and admiration he has for the human body, describing himself as an incredibly lucky person.
With a career of more than 23,000 autopsy cases, he will tell the stories of the cases and bodies that have fascinated and haunted him most. Asked why we all have such a morbid fascination with these cases, he says: “... because it’s unusual and also hidden away, it just sets up a fascination in people. There are always lots of fantasies about what has happened, which are usually a long way away from the truth, but people relish that challenge of trying to understand what has taken place.” But, as he points out, “the dead can only tell the unadorned truth. I listen to their stories.”
With tickets at £28 and just one opportunity to experience this fascinating show, it’ll no doubt satisfy you lot, who make anything involving death the most clicked item of the week. Enjoy yourselves.
PREVIEW: TARTUFFE AT THE REP
Let's start with a bit of background, if we may? Molière was a tearaway genius writer in 1660’s France. His play Tartuffe was a biting satire on the role of spiritual frauds who lived off the gullible. The play was banned after one performance and Molière was threatened with being burnt at the stake by religious nutcases. The comedy eventually became a smash hit when the king gave a cautious thumbs up.
There’s the background. Now the business to hand. TV writers Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto (The Office, Citizen Khan, The Kumars at 42) have taken this classic and placed it firmly in the present. So, swap 1664 for now(ish); swap Tartuffe the Catholic clerical conman for Tartuffe the Brummie trickster; swap Paris for Sparkhill and see what happens. The result is a rollercoaster of a play infused with biting comedy, great Brummie accents, searing social comment and a plot twist or two to keep you guessing.
The updated Tartuffe (smirkingly played by Asif Khan) is the long bearded conman preying off the innocents in his Brum neighbourhood. He dupes the gullible Imran Pervaiz (Simon Nagra) to hand over his posh new home (with its £7000 worth of Norwegian spruce decking), his Merc, his bank account and his business. He even promises his street smart daughter in marriage despite her attraction to a local boyfriend. And he kicks out his beatboxing hotheaded son when the lad questions Tartuffe’s intentions.
Of course, it all comes unstuck. Tartuffe gets caught up in his own dubious spider web of deceit, even getting stuck fast in his very western skinny jeans revealing a spicy set of underwear as he tries to seduce Mrs Pervaiz. So, 350 years after Molière took on the Catholic clergy, Gupta and Pinto showcase that there is still hypocrisy, insincerity and downright fraud in all of Britain’s quarters.
Star of the show is Simon Nagra’s father of the family, Mr Pervaiz. The actor works the whole of the theatre with a boisterous elan. He innocently falls for Tartuffe’s nonsense and dupes even himself into thinking he will be a better Muslim by giving everything to the trickster. He controls the comedy with a machine gun patter reminiscent of an early Alexis Sayle. Every line and every shrug of his mountainous shoulders is met with laughter. His Brummie accent, by the way, is bang on. October 14 to November 5 at the Rep
Jewellery creator and Saved By The Bell semi-obsessive, Zoe Millman, has launched a very limited run of these not so spooky Halloween earring studs. Only ten pairs of pumpkins, bats and skulls have been made and set will cost just a tenner, including postage. Zoe lives in Northfield and jacked in her job as a research officer to turn jewellery pro in 2019. Other highlights from her veh veh pretty online shop are these Bowie-esque zap lightning bolt danglers. Insta
BINGO WITH PALS
Designer and viral sensation Mr Bingo (the man behind the sellout 'Don't Forget' gravestones, pictured) headlines Birmingham Design Festival's one-off Gather event, at The Crossing, Digbeth, October 6. The evening of inspiring talks aimed at Brum's creatives — but for pretty much anyone — also includes rebrand doyen Priyjah Paramasiva, voice acting legend Marc Silk (Star Wars, Thunderbirds, Scooby Doo) and Fat Snags on the pots and pans.£8.50
If there's a Brum venue doing more interesting and, frankly, legally ballsier nights than JQ's The Wilderness then I don't know about it. On Sunday, October 16, they welcome Belgian beer bunch, Duvel, and will pair three cold golds with three dishes that take their inspo from a major fast food chain. Filet 'o' Fish, The Wilderness Big Mac and French Fry Ice Cream are on the menu, with the £30 bill a total steal given it includes those beers. And yes, that is head chef Marius. Book for 5pm.
SQUARE EYE FOR A HORROR GUY
Oscar nominee and knight of the realm, Sir David Hare, DI Ray showrunner Maya Sondhi and reclusive horror author Garth Marenghi (pictured) are just three of the names taking part in the second edition of the Square Eyes TV festival at MAC.
From November 4 to 13, the second incarnation of the festival does what all second series do – doubles down on what made the first series great, with added ambition and more exciting guest stars.
This year Sir David Hare talks about Licking Hitler, his BAFTA winning 1978 Play For Today about a propaganda unit operating during WWII which was shot across the Midlands while Garth Marenghi — horror literature’s greatest living author and one-time TV star — makes two rare public appearances to mark the release of his long-lost multi-volume epic TerrorTome. Marenghi's evening slot sold out licketysplit — of course — so the good people at MAC have popped a second daytime slot (3.15pm) onto the billing which is guaranteed to sell out fast, but they're launching it through this here e-mag so you have a massive head-start on the fourteen Brummies who don't subscribe. Book it by heading here and selecting 3.15pm. When that one's sold out, they really are all gone.
Also on the bill is DI Ray showrunner Maya Sondhi who'll be chatting about her work on the Birmingham filmed ITV series while 'Sooty: 70 Years On The Box' is a day long event to celebrate the frighteningly quiet golden bear’s long career, with showings of rare episodes and guests including including Sooty producer Trevor Hill and puppeteer Ronnie Le Drew. More
A 1:87 scale model housed in a 40ft shipping container, this mini but somehow massive scene is of a vast post-riot landscape in a dystopian model village where only the police and media crews remain in an otherwise deserted, wrecked and dislocated land.
Extraordinarily detailed, it offers a feast of visual and conceptual experiences — from the comedic to the alarming. Viewed through small industrial observation ports built into the sides of the graffiti-covered container, each port offers a new view and fresh perspective of the scene, all set to the buzz of tiny police radio static, roaming spotlights and constant chaotic flash of emergency vehicle strobes. Created in 2013, and displayed as part of Banksy’s Dismaland in 2015, a 're-engineered' version of Cauty's artwork has toured the UK and further afield since 2016, visiting towns and cities that have witnessed historic riots.
Jimmy Cauty is an artist and musician perhaps best known for The KLF and K Foundation (who famously burnt one million pounds in 1994). Over a diverse and productive 'anti-career', his work includes Smiley Riot Shields, postage stamps including the Queen in a gas-mask, and A Riot In A Jam Jar — a work that links directly to The ADP. The ADP visits 82 Fazeley Street, Digbeth (near Printworks, you can't miss it) from now until November 5, where it will be accessible for free every day from 2.30pm to, wildly, 2.30am.
MasterChef: The Professionals Winner 2021, Dan Lee, is tag-teaming with food artist Kaye Winwood for a one-off event that will bring together the tastes, smells, sights and sounds drawing on Dan’s heritage and travels across cultures and cuisines. Menu includes Scallop Flan. Of course it does. Oct 27 and 28, £68.32. Kaye has a lot up her sleeve just now so maybe have a gawk at the full shebang. —
Tickets go on sale tomorrow (September 30, 9am) for Arctic Monkeys at Coventry Arena, their nearest tour date to Brum. —
A new indy pizza place, Smoke + Ash, will open on Edgbaston's Greenfield Crescent at the tail-end of November. You can keep tabs on their Instagram account. —
Award-laden and historic Wine Merchants, Connolly’s, are joined in their Livery Street wine bar Arch 13 for one evening only by Robin Spitz of Oliver Zeter wines. The excellent value six wines and five course dinner for £70 per person includes Sauerbraten, a traditional German beef dish that requires a week of marinating before a slooooow cook. More —
The absolute Godfather of quirky culinary events in this city, Carl Finn, is dusting down the old apron once more with a new event called Kraut, Kraut Let It All Out, November 18. Details are almost joyously scarce but if ever there were someone to take a leap of faith with, it's Carl. More —
Porridge impresarios and all round wonderful people, Morridge, will spring out of their Great Western Arcade home for pop-ups throughout the colder months (their HQ remains, of course). Stop one is this Saturday (Oct 1) at Stirchley's wonderful Verbena. More —
Yesterday, Lichfield's Michelin-starred Upstairs opened bookings for all of 2023, so now's a very good time to get a reservation in. Carters also launched their diary of bookings for the remainder of 2022, so very good availability there also. — Stirchley Open Cinema will be screening the heart-warming Brian & Charles at Stirchley Baths on Oct 21 for just £6. This is a thoroughly enjoyable movie. You'd like it.
I'm guessing, here.
WORDS: Tom Cullen, Claire Hawkins
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