The reason why I passed through Birmingham was to spend a day with the 1st and 3rd year art students of Oxford Brooks University at Solihull College.
I absolutely love it!
Although by now I have given quite a few artist’s talks, this was even more special for me.
From the very start the whole experience was great.
I have a very strong emotional attachment to this part of the world having lived there for almost four months while attending my artist residency at the REA GARDEN in old victorian industrial Digbeth. But not only that, I was finally able to meet again with Arlene Burnett.
Arlene is a wonderful artist who had founded and curated the Rea Graden Project. Now Arlene is running the art degree for Oxford Brooks University at Solihull college that she has put together herself.
I don’t know why, but somehow I always end up having a good time in the Midlands, the people there are just so lovely, really special indeed.
The night before the lecture Arlene and I met for tea (dinner) at our old local pub: the Old Crown. I was pleased to spot one of the regulars elderly gentleman still hanging out there. Two years have past but he is still sitting on his spot. I fear that the sense of nostalgia brings me to romanticize too much. In the end I don’t really know what has brought him there and about Digbeth.
My partner Veronica would often meet me at the Old Crown after work to enjoy a local pint of beer or two, sometimes accompanied by their irish home made steak pie.
I was already flying, lifted by all those lovely memories, but the students were just the best.
First thing in the morning I bombard them with a 100 slides power point presentation on my work. Seventy five minutes later I decided to spare them from the videos that I had selected for the occasion! Artists residencies and the application process is what we discussed instead until up to lunch time. Right after our break it was tutorials time. I had the privilege to visit their world and enter their studios to discuss their work.
Sadly the Rea garden does not exist anymore. It was a magical semi-outdoor space hiding along the river Rea.
Right beneath a splendid arc of victorian bricks still functioning as railway bridges, this overlooked space was and art hive. Shadowed by beautiful architectural forms it was in fact an appendix of the neighbouring Custard Factory. Arlene had made it even more special by retaining the enchantment of its flourishing decay. A hidden, quite welcoming ‘underground’ space open to everybody to stop by for a cup of tea and a bite of art by the wooden stove in the wooden shed.
I hope Arlene will be able to rescue the Rea Garden’s website that documents how much hard work and excitement went into that project as well as all the artists that passed through it contributing to a very exciting cultural programme.