Galleries Night & Arty Days at the Ikon

 

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Birmingham has gained a reputation as being one of the primary cultural cities in the UK. The city has been playing host to numerous educational and entertainment activities from different fields of art over the years.

Staying true to this, during one of my summer visits – it’s been a few years now – as part of the Museums at Night initiative taking place across the country, a Galleries Night was held by four galleries in the region of Birmingham. The uniqueness about this event was the availability of The Art Bus which was a free bus service taking visitors from one venue to another.

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On Friday, the 13th of May – Spooky! – my wife and I started our journey from the nearby situated Ikon Gallery.

The Ikon in iconic to Birmingham because it is a free gallery housed in a beautiful brick building that stands in contrast to the modern day glass high-rises in this commercial area of the city. Moreover, its location, next to an open “rectangle”, makes for some dramatic photo opportunities especially when the cherry blossom trees are in full bloom – unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to visit around this time.

What’s more, Ikon has been known to not shy away from the controversial and has highlighted the charm of the conventional when it comes to selecting artists and their installations. Their enthusiasm towards art of all forms and a passion towards celebrating it has always been contagious.

Over the years I have been lucky enough to attend a few of their showcases along with artist and author chats that they hold at regular intervals;


One of my very first events – that happened around the time of The Art Bus – was a book talk by Rahul Bhattacharya where he spoke about his inspiration for The Sly Company of People Who Care.

As it happened, this was also my first ever book-talk – there’s been a few since – so I did not know what to expect. There was a brief Q&A followed by the author reading from the book. This is where his passion for the story truly came through and for the next ten odd minutes Rahul completely immersed himself into the characters, changing his accent and mannerism, almost unaware of the audience.

The book follows the adventures of a 26-year-old Indian cricket writer who leaves everything behind and heads over to Guyana in the Caribbean. Although it’s a fictional story, there are autobiographical elements with Rahul actually being an Indian and a cricketing journalist at that, having written a book titled The Pundits of Pakistan previously, and has spent a considerable amount of time in the Caribbean.


A few days before the book talk, I had visited the Ikon for another talk; this time with John Salt under the series “These are a few of my favourite things”.

Having viewed his displayed art previously, I was intrigued to find out about Salt’s inspiration. He has a special connection with Ikon’s history as John Salt was also the first artist to have exhibited his work when the gallery started.

Salt’s art took it’s time to grown on me but I was completely in awe of the technique he uses. On the day of the talk, his personality undoubtedly shinned as he sat on the stage talking about various aspects of his life with an almost childlike enthusiasm. He came across as a very simple person, easily approachable, and one who takes life for what it is. Humour and honesty oozed as he explained why he liked the art he had selected for the evening.

I’ve met very few “artists” in my life and although John Salt had certain aloofness to him – common trait found in most artists – he seemed relaxed and having listened to him, my appreciation for his art definitely increased tenfold. 

Below are the 8 works of art that he mentioned as part of “These are a few of my favourite things”    

  • An English Autumn Afternoon, 1852-54 – Ford Madox Brown
  • Grand Street Bride, 1954 – Grace Hartigan
  • Back Street Dodge ’38, 1964 – Ed Kienhoiz
  • A Satyr mourning over a nymph, about 1495 – Piero di Cosimo
  • Venice from the Laguna, about 1835 – JMW Turner
  • St. Giles RC Church, Cheadle, Staffordshire
  • The Fur, 1636-1638 – Peter Paul Rubens
  • Bacchus & Ariadne, 1520-3 – Titian

During Galleries Night we received a guided tour which further explained in detail the art of John Salt focusing on the little nuances that made his oil on canvas paintings special. It was interesting to see how the perspective with which the artist painted – mostly old and battered cars – had changed over time.

Starting with extreme close-ups his viewpoint has changed to where now his paintings feature a wider spectrum. His method of painting – unique in all respects – has been of taking photographs and then projecting them on to the canvas and working from there on.

Back on The Art Bus and we made our way from the Ikon to The RBSA.

The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) has been active since 1814. It has a wonderful property that seemed a little crammed between all the other buildings of Brooke Street, where it is situated. With close to 200 member, it has, at the time, opened its membership to include other artists.

The entrance of the building houses the information kiosk and a shop selling various arts ranging from paintings and ceramics to jewellery and pottery. The exhibits change from time to time, making repeated trips to the RBSA compulsory.

During our visit, the gallery featured beautiful and expensive gold and silver jewellery by Michele White. She had placed her drawings and inspirations along with each piece displayed which made for a beautiful story of the art form its initial conception to the final product.

The RBSA at the time was also holding The EAC Over 60s Art Awards – an exhibition featuring art made by amateur artists over the age of 60. One could see genuine passion in promoting the arts without any boundaries and this theme ran across all the galleries.

The RBSA at the time was also holding The EAC Over 60s Art Awards – an exhibition featuring art made by amateur artists over the age of 60. One could see genuine passion in promoting the arts without any boundaries and this theme ran across all the galleries.

Our next stop was the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Situated in a beautiful purpose built Art Deco building, the institute owes its presence to Dame Martha Constance Hettie Barbar and her husband who left the entire Barber fortune to the institute.

The art collection, unlike other galleries of the world, was started afresh with works selected over time by the directors. Since the Barber’s were not fond of 20th century art, initially works only up to 1899 were purchased when the gallery opened in 1932. Over time, changes have been made to this and now art older than 30 years can be included in the collection.

The paintings are beautifully displayed in the building that also plays host to an impressive coin collection.

The MAC, which was to be out next Gallery on the tour, had to be skipped due to time constraints. Situated next to the wonderful Cannon Hill Park – perfect for picnics – we decided, and eventually did, visit it on another day.

Our trip finally ended where it began, at the Ikon.

On that day Ikon was holding an exhibit on Tadasn Takamine’s controversial and sometimes bizarre audio-visual art. Titled “Too Far To See” it was distinctive and very individualistic as the audience’s emotional response to the art was bound to be polar in terms of understanding and explanation.

A rather odd installation occupied a little room in the tower at the Ikon that day as well; A machine built by Kristoffer Myskja titled “Machine that uses a thousand years to shut itself down”. Working on light, using solar panels, the machine was supposed to do what the titled suggested… or maybe not.

Ikon is special for two more reasons to me; it has one of the best art bookshops in the city that also sells some nifty stationery and the Ikon Cafe with their OH-So-Yummy Ginger cake and coffee – and other eatables too – makes for the perfect place to have your lunch, evening tea, or nightly drinks.

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In conclusion, the entire event was a brilliant way to not only introduce first timers and visitors to the word of art, but spotlighted the culture of the city and what Birmingham has to offer. Informative, courteous and helpful hosts, there were free drinks and snacks at every venue, and a positive arty vibe everywhere we went.

Of course, it made me appreciate the Ikon Gallery a whole lot more so much so that no trip to Birmingham now is ever complete without me visiting the gallery – a few months back I saw the very trippy fluorescent installations by Dan Flavin – or shopping at their bookshop.

 

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18 thoughts on “Galleries Night & Arty Days at the Ikon

  1. I also like art and visit galleries once in a while. I am not too educated in the area, though, and to see and speak with the artists themselves could be a great opportunity to better understand the work behind the paintings. Same goes for the writers, it would be interesting to know what inspired them to write the book. Looks like time and money well spent 🙂

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  2. I never knew Birmingham had such a wonderful art scene! I would love to visit the exhibit The EAC Over 60s Art Awards; my mom does a lot of art programs with seniors in the States, and they always love their workshops. The last time I went to Birmingham it was just a quick drive through, but you’ve got me thinking I need to head back and visit for longer!

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  3. Hello Raghav, I never realised that Art Galleries are so much fun, I am not an avid reader of fictional books but this blog has made it interesting. I hope we have these sort of tours in India as well but I doubt. The inspiration I take here tonight is to go and read “The Sly Company of People Who Care” . 🙂 Cheers keep writing !!

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  4. Thanks for sharing this post. I never been to Birmingham, but as a HUGE art lover, I would really like this “art route”
    Especially the book talk sounds really interesting. I really like, when the artists get to the core of their work, and it sounds like, you got that. I also think, that Ikon sounds really interesting. I like visual art, and I can spend days in art book stores 🙂 Birmingham will be on my travel list, for sure.

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    1. They have the art route in this fashion once every year but it’s easy to visit all the places individually in a day.

      Ikon is really nice because it promotes all kinds of art and the talks they have are pretty nice and informative and celebrate people in a wonderful way.

      Also Birmingham is brilliant if you enjoy food. They are big on that.

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  5. Birmingham has a bit of a bad reputation among English people as somewhere you should’t visit! I’ve got to admit I don’t really see it as a cultural place at all! However, if you enjoyed your time in the city then that’s all that really matters!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Tom and yes whenever I tell anyone I’m going or at times stay in Birmingham the first response is “why”. But, I think things are changing and over the last 4-5 years it has really come up in a big way. Won’t be able to give London a run for the money but the other cities I think a little bit. Have written about some of the other attractions s and food places on the blog of interested.

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