26 years have passed since my first visit here in 1990 with my boss, Jo from Walsall Youth Arts. This was when the whole area here was looked after by a few artists who worked in the vast, broken empire of Alfie Bird’s Custard powder factory. This was before Benny Gray bought it for one British Pound, as long as he promised to renovate it (or at least that’s how I remember it). Nowadays, his son Lucan looks after it along with the famed Dave Peebles.
Last time I was here was for City of Colours last year.
Global Street Art gathered myself, Gent & Title – all of us from the hallowed motherland of the Midlands. We’ve known each other for yonks. As soon as we heard that we were working together we furiously got together several inspirational imagery and references of local celebrities that (should) inspire the young creative people of today. The ideas came thick and fast and during the research we discovered that a quote from Benjamin Zephaniah would give us the title of the work.
“Birmingham has changed a lot, but for me it’s still the centre of the universe,”
– Benjamin Zephaniah
Plus – I really wanted to bust some freehand lettering.
Braving the weather
At one point I thought we were all going to turn up in our DPM as the weather was disturbingly and deceptively freezing up there on the fifth floor. Plenty of paint courtesy of our mate Boffers (our first designated safety operative and lift pilot) from Global Street Art. We got on with dividing it up and loading the lift with our wares to get the top done first. The lettering can wait…
It had to take 4 days, so me and Gent primed and built the top faded radial effect, and most of the cityscape, so by the second day it was ready for Title’s arrival. Then one and two halves of the portraits of Benjamin Zepheniah, Mike Sinner, Felicity Jones and start the top of Lady Leshurr. The process went swimmingly well, allowing the time in the central piece to get worked by Title and Gent and I ensured the surrounding artworks join well to below (to come) and above (previously done and ready for… lettering).
We wanted to paint a tribute to the rock corner of the Midlands with Ozzay, Plantay or Nodday but the brief required inspirational creative characters that 16-24 year olds would recognise.
This particular wall was a lovely, smooth, new build, in the Custard Factory Phase 2 complex, housing 5 floors of small studios, a tobacconist, sweet shop, graffiti supplies a small lake with a fountain. Right beside the wall is the railway taking travellers in and out of Moor Street station, only quarter of a mile down the road. We all shared an amazing moment as we went 20m up above to the same level as the railway in the lift to get the lettering done (did I mention the lettering?). This epiphany was only embittered by the fact that we were down by two tins of beige – and as if by some stroke of godliness, the guys down at GraffitiArtist.com were emptying their van after a visit to the N.E.C.. We bought their whole stock of the beige required to finish the SE of UNIVERSE.
Enough to say that they earned a trip up to the neon-lit fifth floor, with the smell of 94 merging into the smell of diesel and electrical arcing. We all earned icicles too.
Oh, and the huge lettering was painted freehand. Very satisfying to wake at the Old Crown, walk around from Floodgate Street to be welcomed by our aerial, poster-like declaration. Before I boarded the return train I could just see it between the buildings, looking to Digbeth from Moor Street station…
The surface was lovely and glossy, painted once when developed, and once more when it was leased to Dulux. Facing the wall is the walkway from the college round the corner, accessible by crossing the River Rea from Floodgate Street.