Reuben Colley has been painting Birmingham city centre for 15 years. Since his first exhibition ‘Impressions of Birmingham’ in 2001, the city has undergone a metamorphosis, from the redevelopment of the Bullring, and the Rotunda’s facelift, to our shiny new Grand Central. Reuben has captured and documented it all in his oil paintings.
In this latest collection, which follows on from the sold-out exhibition ‘City Living’ (Collection I, 2013), Reuben has chosen to focus on the beauty of our busy shopping streets during and after a rain storm.
“Rain emphasises the colours in the city. The light conditions and reflections create a visual drama which brings the city to life.” Reuben Colley
Corporation Street was part of a major redevelopment of Birmingham begun in the 1870s. Birmingham’s reforming Mayor, Joseph Chamberlain, tore down some of the overcrowded slums in the town centre, and replaced them with this grand thoroughfare, which he modelled upon a Parisian Boulevard. Under Chamberlain, Birmingham became known as ‘the best governed city in the world’ and was a model for civic governance and reform.
Many of Corporation Street’s original Victorian buildings survive to this day, alongside examples of later architectural styles. Corporation Street is still evolving, and the tramlines and overhead cables captured in Reuben Colley’s paintings signal the latest change to affect the street: the reintroduction of trams to the city centre.
New Street was already in existence in the thirteenth century. Called ‘novus vicus’ (mediaeval Latin for ‘new street’), it is referred to in the rent rolls for the year 1296. Even then, Birmingham was bustling with industry. Metalworkers, tanners and potters were creating and selling their wares, and the market was attracting people from across the region.
New Street is still the heart of Birmingham, linking the Bull Ring with the Council House and Town Hall. Historically, it has been the site of many important buildings including the 18th century Theatre Royal, King Edward VI High School, and the original headquarters of the Birmingham Society of Artists.
Many Birmingham residents will remember New Street when it was congested with cars and buses. The pedestrianisation of the street radically changed the atmosphere of the city centre.
Reuben Colley has always found beauty in the unexpected. The pedestrians are hurrying to escape the rain – stopping to admire their surroundings is the last thing on their minds. For Reuben Colley, the wet conditions prove to be an inspiration. The uneven paving of New Street becomes an opportunity to explore how the different surfaces reflect the light.
New Street bears little resemblance to the ‘novus vicus’ of mediaeval times, and has been subject to constant change throughout its history. Some of its Victorian buildings were lost during the bombing raids of the 1940s. Now a mixture of architectural styles, it is adorned with the transient shop logos and street furniture of the 21st century. Reuben Colley captures a single moment in the life of this ancient thoroughfare.
The east end of New Street is dominated by the Rotunda, regarded by many Birmingham people as one of the most iconic elements of the city’s skyline. Completed in 1965, as part of Birmingham’s post-war redevelopment, it was threatened with demolition in the 1980s. By popular demand, it was preserved, and is now Grade II listed.
In two paintings entitled ‘New Street, Blue Sky’, the wet streets contrast with the bright conditions. Sunlight illuminates the upper storeys of the buildings, while the street is in shadow.
Street vendors have been part of the scene in New Street for hundreds of years. In Colley’s paintings the flower sellers and food outlets are an integral part of the urban landscape.
Reuben Colley Fine Art
85 – 89 Colmore Row, Birmingham, B3 2BB
Tel : 0121 236 0920
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