I have spent the last month researching the collections during my residency here. I have now finished at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) and moved back into my studio. I’ll be channelling these ideas into a new commission for BMAG for January. The residency has encouraged a new direction for my work, where my public facing studio encouraged conversations and interactions with staff and the public. These daily conversations have fed into my artistic process and encouraged me to rethink my relationship with ‘the gallery’, and the editing process that I go through while making work. It has also given me an insight into the direct art historical context of the materials I use, and how drawing and works on paper have been used.
The studio itself has been a significant influence on how I’ve been working.
The view looks out onto Victoria Square and Town Hall.
The space has been used for both workshops with the public and my daily studio practice.
These sketches are the beginning of the exploration into my new work, which evoke familiar motifs of journeys, place, and landscape.
During my time here, I have looked at a huge range of landscapes and topographical views in the collection. I also spent some time with photographer David Rowan, who showed me the work he had done documenting the view from the roof of the building, and also how the roof and dome at BMAG have gradually been restored. This has pushed me to think more about the importance of viewpoints within a changing city.
I keep coming back to this painting within the collection, titled ‘Birmingham from the Dome of St. Philips Church’, painted by Samuel Lines in 1821 (the church is now a cathedral).
It was made from the dome, which is inaccessible to the public now. The dome was then the highest point in the town, and still seems very high – it is said to be the same level as the cross on St Paul’s Cathedral in London. It is a fascinating perspective on the city and I was captivated by the idea of recreating this view today.
This week I met with Catherine Ogle (Dean of Birmingham) and Rob Hands (Head Verger at St Philip’s). Rob and I climbed the precarious tower to the top of the dome, then compared the views. Thanks to a compass and a selection of historical maps, I worked out the angle from which Samuel Lines created his painting. The original painting was made pointing southwest – I overlaid old and new maps to give a rough idea of the angle.
I will be spending the coming weeks exploring the idea of this view, or ‘prospect’, and its historical and cultural significance. The BMAG team will be documenting my new commission and its development. For now, here is a view of the clock from inside the tower and the gravestone of Samuel Lines himself, in the graveyard of the Cathedral.
I’d also like to add a huge thank you to all the staff at BMAG who have been generous with their time and resources to help me develop this residency and commission.
Sarah Taylor Silverwood,
Whitworth Wallis Artist in Residence
This week I have been to the Museum Collections Centre, I’ve been taking photographs on the roof of the gallery, and I ran a ‘Big Buildings’ drawing workshop. It has been really busy but full of inspiration and I’ve made a start of the final work I’m producing for the residency.
I want to produce a view of Birmingham inspired by some of the topographical views in the collection. When looking through these works, I have been trying to work out what angle they are taken from. It is difficult to find a good viewpoint (often people use a bit of artistic license to get what they want in) so I have been trying to find the perfect spot to draw from. The new Library of Birmingham has some fantastic views, so I climbed to the 9th floor to see what part of the landscape I could get in:
It wasn’t quite the right angle, and I wanted to get something that looked out from BMAG if possible. The BMAG security team took me up onto the roof of the gallery. The views are incredible, especially looking back at the library – you can see the tiny figures in the roof garden.
Alongside finding the right viewpoint I wanted to explore more of the work in the collection so spent a day at the Museum Collections Centre (MCC). It is a treasure trove of incredible things, from buttons to computers:
I am particularly interested in the work of Samuel Lines, so Jo-Ann Curtis (Curator) showed me this sketch done in preparation for making the painting below. It seems much less restrained than some of the more finished pieces.
Henry Harris Lines, eldest son of Samuel Lines, is a brilliant draughtsman and also uses Birmingham as the subject for his work. These two pieces depict the city which is very different from today but still holds some recognisable features:
The formality and style of some of these prints of Birmingham architecture is something I’d like to replicate in my drawing:
Finally I asked if we could look at some trade cards used by Birmingham based industries. They are beautiful objects in themselves, each full of intricate detail and typography. The importance of industry to Birmingham’s heritage is something I’d like to bring in to the new work. Thanks to Jo-Ann for a great day exploring the collections at MCC.
Finally, thank you to everyone who came to the Big Buildings Workshop on Saturday 12th October! We had over 100 visitors in 2 hours and they created some beautiful artworks. Below are a few photos of the giant window landscapes:
And people also made their own big buildings to take home. Maisy Kate Neal made a drawing of the Council House and Art Gallery, and then collaged over it.
This is my final week at BMAG. On Wednesday I am running a final Open Studio from 1-4pm. Come and find out more about the Artist in Residence programme and the new artwork I am making. Also there is an opportunity to be a part of my new work. I am asking members of the public if I can photograph them to draw from. Thanks to all the members of the public who came to be photographed last week, this is Shengwei posing for hers:
Sarah Taylor Silverwood,
Whitworth Wallis Artist in Residence