Monday, 5 December 2016

Birmingham: St Chad's cathedral

Birmingham has suffered a lot in the 20th century from rapacious Modernity.  The centre is scarred by arterial roads and ill considered developments.  This was illustrated pretty well in the City Museum and Art Gallery where there were two schemes on display from the Midcentury: a great model of the Beaux Arts Centenary Square off Broad St, and a drawing (rather good one) of a suburban tower block development.  The former looked as though it was a refugee from the Third Reich and the latter like it was attempting an impersonation of the Karl Marx Allee in the former East Berlin. Neither scheme seemed to have anything to do with character of the city.  Were we so unsure of ourselves that we had to ape the urban forms of Totalitarian Modernity?
The area around St Chad's Cathedral (1839-41, and early work by A W N Pugin) is a practical illustration of my point.  Pugin designed St Chad's to fit into a tight, dense urban context of narrow streets; it was not designed to be seen, as now, across dual carriageways and open space.  And that's why it looks oh-so slightly disappointing.  However in his materials - brick and sandstone - Pugin acknowledges the genius loci, though the design has a sort of North German feel to it as though it was designed not for a canal-side in the English Midlands but the side of the Baltic.  Apart from the facade the outside is plain, even frugal: few mouldings and fewer buttresses.  As I've said this partly from the fact that it was not really designed for public exposure, but also, I think, for the sake of economy.  No English Medieval church of this scale would be quite so parsimonious.  Still the mass and grouping of the liturgical east end is quite dramatic, verging on the sublime.
The interior is something else, a sort of hollowing out of the dense early Victorian city fabric to create a soaring numinous space in which to encounter the divine.  The sandstone columns are very attenuated; the whole space has a sort of delicacy and fragility.  Again Pugin works with incredible economy.  There are great vast acres of flat wall surface, contrasting with flashes of rich detail.  The fragility extends to the roofs, which have a thinness typical of his work.  A medieval roof would be massive in comparison.  Again rapacious Modernity has been at work inside as well as out, denuding the interior of a number of Pugin's rich furnishings.  The greatest loss is the Rood screen which is now happily in Holy Trinity, Reading.  Interestingly Pugin partly furnished St Chad's with architectural antiques such as the German Late Gothic/Early Renaissance pulpit.
The SW chapel is a very sensitive addition dating from the 1930s by S P Powell.

Saturday, 3 December 2016


The bf and I went over to Birmingham on Wednesday to visit my family.  It was the bf's first proper visit.  We kicked things off with the City Museum and Art Gallery.  It has a fantastic collection of Pre-Raphaelite art, along with an outstanding collection of applied and decorative arts.  The gallery itself is an opulent Victorian Renaissance style, part of the Council House designed by Yeoville Thomason.  West, over Edmund Street is a huge Edwardian Baroque extension by Ashley and Newman, connected to the original galleries by a massively rusticated bridge rich in sculpture.  The whole complex is really worth a visit.
The next morning we had a brief explore of the Jewelry Quarter.  Originally a Georgian suburb of the city it was slowly colonized by small scale manufacturing during the 19th century, esp the jewelry trade.  The buildings are an interesting mix of the original houses with 19th & 20th commercial buildings.  Most the of manufacturing has relocated and the area is undergoing a slow revival. It has a unique spirit of place.  A lot of the pavements are paved in hard dark  engineering bricks.  The scale is low but dense.  Hard at times to think you are the midst of a vast sprawling city.   St Paul's church and the square around it date from the late 1700s.  The architect of the church - rather Gibbsian - was Roger Eykyns, the spire was added until the 1820s.  Our goal, however, was St Chad's Cathedral by A W N Pugin, but more of that in my next post.

We ate dinner at 'Otto' the pizarria on Caroline Street in the Jewelry Quarter (just around the corner from my nephew's flat where we staying).  Coppa, fresh pesto and rocket on a Margarita base for me.  We have a lovely sharing platter to begin with with garlic and Rosemary flatbread.  The hunter's salami which was flavoured with fennel was outstanding.  Breakfast was taken next door at 'The Eight Foot Grocer' - it refers to the width of the premises.  Both are housed in a former biscuit factory.  Elevenses were taken in Druckers, Great Western Arcade - a good excuse for tea and cake.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Own Work: Green Man V

A further variation on the Green Man.

Own work: Life Drawing XXXI

Last Thursday's class

Monday, 21 November 2016

Own work: The Green Man IV

Another exploration of the Green man - a variation on my earlier Green Man II

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Own work: The Green Man III

I've been continuing with my exploration of the enigmatic Green Man.  Not sure this is up to much, but here goes....

Own work: Life Drawing XXX

From last weeks life drawing class, after several weeks away....