THE BLOG

The Birmingham Graffiti Scene: Alive and Kicking

23/04/2014 17:36 BST | Updated 23/06/2014 10:59 BST

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Captain Kris and Liskbot at Sneaks&Peaks

Having read and enjoyed Jody Thompson's recent post about the London Street Art scene and the emergence of new Turk, Pegasus, and a new piece of street art inspired by Kate Moss's recent Playboy photo-shoot that appeared over the Easter weekend, I could not help but draw parallels with Easter in Birmingham, and in particular, Digbeth in the heart of Birmingham's old industrial quarter. While the likes of Pegasus were painting the town red, yellow, black and blue all across that there London, Digbeth was holding the grand final of its graffiti centrepiece of the year, Secret Walls, with Latin legend Setdebelleza taking on local hero, Foka Wolf, the latter winning after a very strict and stripped 90 minute battle wherein contestants were encouraged to poke fun at the other in his/her artwork. Pen only, which has infuriated other local graffiti artists in recent weeks who deem Secret Walls and the sticker and stencil brigade of 'Brum Town' as not pure. Sorry, Tony Graffiti, but I think there is room for more than one way of expressing yourself and if it encourages a younger generation to pick up a pen, then so be it, man.

Admittedly, Secret Walls was first started in the capital back in 2006 but has sprawled across the globe in a Fight Club fashion. I don't even know if I'm breaking the rules of Secret Walls by writing this. I don't want to think of a group of graff artists ganging up on me and spray-painting my house in the dead of night. Although, I could end up with my own original piece of art, so there is that I suppose.

Anyway, the winner was local favourite, Foka Wolf, thanks in part to support from the Birmingham crowd when each of the pieces was being judged on audience applause. For me, the best man didn't win, but then that's just my opinion and not the crowd's it would seem. Still, I saw more talent on display over just this one day than in all of Britain's Got Talent's many, many monotonous series.

While Secret Walls was the culmination of the day's festivities, during the day we also had live graffiti occurring on the streets of Digbeth too. Not all of it legal, as I saw first hand when a couple of chancers, albeit talented, were trying to paint at the back of The Custard Factory only to be chased away by a knowing security guard. A sharp reminder of graffiti's beginnings and a reminder that much of it still occurs during the dark, dark nights in abandoned buildings and the shonkier parts of town, to paraphrase poet Simon Armitage.

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WhoAm Irony at Suki 10

Over at Suki 10 - surely Birmingham's best kept secret drinking establishment, surprisingly given the whole of its exterior is daubed with street art - WhoAm Irony took his sweet time over his amazing creation which he had clearly thought through to be more than just a great piece of contemporary art on a club wall; looking amazing in the cold hard light of day, while popping to life under the glow of UV lights too. Stencil art may be the taste of the day, but in the long run, it's this style of graffiti art that still blows me away the most when done properly. For many of these guys, it's the love of art and the desire to communicate their skills and ideas through, effectively, free art for the masses that makes many of then get out of bed in the morning, or at least the afternoon?

Across the day at local trainer trading event Sneak&Peaks, the punters were also entertained by the likes of Gent 48, Liskbot and Captain Kris painting and drawing and livening up the place. In fact, as a London based artist, this was Captain Kris's first visit to Birmingham and he was so taken it was not hard to talk him into staying the night. The crowd was plentiful and it was clear talking to several of the artists that events such as these can only be a good thing for Birmingham the local art scene in general. Boasting about it is another thing however.

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Foka Wolf (left) vs Setdebelleza at the Secret Walls final

A relaxing chilled day out with a very friendly atmosphere wherever you went. Interestingly, a recent Kickstarter campaign, led by City of Colours, Birmingham Street Art Festival, has just succeeded in securing the funds needed to do something like this all over again, with more artists and a wider radius too. That will be in September, so look out for this and always remember to support your local artists.

By Monday morning and the festivities of 420 and Bradford Street was awash with new pieces from the famous and infamous of Birmingham's street art scene. Alive and kicking, but just not very good at blowing it's own trumpet. So, as an adopted son of this city, that's where I will happily step in and learn to play the trumpet. Birmingham has a lot to offer and I hope you can join me in discovering it's many beauties.

Read more from Olly MacNamee at his blog: www.ollymacnamee.blogspot.co.uk