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Why Art Matters in Britain's 'Second City' - (And Not Just Its First)

Why Art Matters in Britain's 'Second City' - (And Not Just Its First)
The face of Britain today is changing rapidly – and art plays a vital role in chronicling our evolution. This may be one of the reasons why Tate Britain has just rehung its vast collection, writes Alec Lom.

Imagine 800 works by 350 artists spanning 6 centuries, now all re-ordered to clarify and put into fresh perspective the story of British life and its history through the ages.

The Tate has linked works to key moments in history, milestones in our politics, society and architecture. All these now hang on the gallery’s London walls in chronological order.

But roughly 100 miles north, another artist has been busy – and is flourishing – having been devoted for the past quarter of a century to his task of capturing on historic canvases his evolving local cityscape.

No, not in the capital, but in Britain’s ‘Second City’. For Reuben Colley is Birmingham’s most famous painter. He's been dubbed ‘The Artist Laureate of Birmingham’.

Colley’s canvases don’t portray royalty or prime ministers. Instead, they chronicle graffiti-covered, urban concrete, overgrown pathways, tower blocks and car parks. These are forgotten and unloved corners so many of us overlook.

Media have drawn comparisons between Colley’s dedication to depicting the city of Birmingham and its environs and L.S. Lowry’s drawings and paintings of Greater Manchester. 

Today, Colley’s original works are held in public collections across the UK and by private collectors in countries around the world, including America, France, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, Singapore, Monaco and Dubai.

His new work, now on display at the Colley Ison Gallery, Birmingham’s most prestigious art gallery, is attracting widespread UK and international interest, especially among Colley’s collectors in America who have followed his career closely since his first exhibition in 2001, ‘Impressions of Birmingham’.

So I ask, isn’t Reuben Colley’s work, along with other artists’ work in the regions, integral to our national heritage? Are we all far too London-centric in our outlooks and tastes?

Maybe Tate Britain exhibitions of the future will reveal the answer.

Image featured : VICTORIA SQUARE TOWARDS NEW STREET, by Reuben Colley
(currently on display at the gallery).

* Alec Lom, who is head of media at The Colley Ison Gallery, is a former Fleet Street journalist and Arts Editor of the British national news agency, The Press Association. He has written articles on British culture, covering the film and theatre scenes in London’s West End and the Provinces, also reporting on opera, ballet, literature, music and the Arts. This article was originally published on his LinkedIn blog
* You can read more about Tate Britain’s latest exhibition here:


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