I have been in Birmingham now for close to 7 years. Safe to say that it has become my second home. I came here to study and by no means did I intend to stay. I was sure that I would go back home to Tallinn, Estonia. My studies at Birmingham City University at Margaret Street were great, that was the whole reason I moved here. Yes, it was a bit cheaper to live in than London. I didn’t know a lot about the city and I was not a massive LOTR fan, but I knew that the steelworks in the West Midlands inspired Tolkien’s stories and that he was from here as well. So many people at home kept on asking me ‘why Birmingham? There is just like one art gallery there. Out of all cities in the UK, why Birmingham?’
They couldn’t be more wrong. Half a year in and I got intrigued with the city. Birmingham is very welcoming towards foreigners. Although, having Estonian accent is always a great conversation starter as not a lot of people can distinguish where I am coming from. But people still want to show that they know geography and state confidently ‘I know, this is next to Poland, right’ or ‘I know, I have a friend from Poland’. Just to let you know, Estonia as far away from Poland as Poland is from the UK.
After graduation, I didn’t have a cosy job waiting for me back in Estonia and therefore I thought that I will stay here a bit longer. I managed to develop a decent network around myself and I decided to stay. For me, it was always a question, the ‘why?’. Why am I here? There has to be a reason for me being here. What can I add to the environment I am in that is missing? Then I realised that there is not a lot of opportunities for local artists to commercialise their work. Yes, there are several commercial galleries in Birmingham, but which one of these focuses on purely local artists? Especially on the quirky ones? Before you ask, yes, there is a lot more than just one gallery in Birmingham.
I have been working with international artists since 2008 when I started managing art events and exhibitions for other artists. That was the whole reason for me to apply for studies in Birmingham – arts management. Also, I am an artist myself, a printmaker to be exact, and I have been exhibiting in various solo and group shows since 2004. Recently, I returned to my practice as well. Needless to say that I know how to deal with artists.
I was very fortunate to come to Birmingham in a right time – the redevelopment was in its peak and was growing. Office spaces and buildings were and still are built constantly. So why doesn’t the artwork by local artists reach these buildings? Why do we still see the ‘IKEA art’? Of course, I am generalising here as I haven’t been to EVERY office space in Birmingham (yet).
This is how Okk Arts was born. I had an idea of creating a platform, where local artists gain visibility in front of the corporate clients. From another side, corporate businesses will have a wide choice of visual art. Art is an integral part of our life and I believe that everyone should have this. Art makes an impression and it inspires. If ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, then what does the art on the wall say about the company?
More office spaces are being built every day and more and more artists are staying in Birmingham. There is supply and there is demand – where else would I do business?
Now, when people ask me, why Birmingham, I say ‘because it is a vibrant and ever-growing city, with friendly people and a lot of artistic talent!’
When I was a teenager, I had posters of my favourite movie actors on the walls in my room. My grandparents have my artworks on their walls. Currently, I have photos of my family on my walls. There is a reason why we do this. Those images evoke positive emotions: A great memory from our childhood, an exciting holiday, they remind you of somebody who is very dear to you or just something or somebody you admire. No matter what it is, there is always some personal connection to it. We surround ourselves with visuals which we enjoy. Artwork can be one of those but there must be an emotional connection to it. Otherwise, it is no different to wallpaper.
We spend a lot of time away from our homes and to be productive, the environment has to be favourable. Working in the office with other people, you need to find something which would speak to a variety of people. Therefore, a photograph of your family on a beach is probably not the best option but an original artwork or a limited edition and signed print would make a difference.
But how do you find an artwork which you would like? There are a couple of things to keep in mind before you go and purchase or rent an artwork:
Firstly, what kind of visual do you want? This is the most crucial question. You need to consider not just your taste but the image you want to create. What are your company’s values and ethos? Who are your clients that visit your office? It is not just about the visual itself; it is what it represents. Consulting with an art adviser is the best option although you can do some research yourself as well. If you don’t know where to start, just ask yourself the following:
Abstract or depictive? If you choose a depictive one, then what would you like to see on it? Humans, animals, landscape, cityscape, or perhaps some concrete objects all fall under depictive art.
Painting or drawing? Do you like splashes of colour or you enjoy the details of a line-based drawing?
What colours do you prefer? Vivid colours or black and white?
By the process of eliminations, you will get much closer to your desired artwork. Just keep in mind that no matter what you are choosing, make sure that the message the artwork portrays, is consistent with your company’s brand.
Secondly, what is your budget? Buying an investment piece is not cheap but together with good advice and guidance by art adviser, there is an excellent chance to find artwork with increased value in. This is more of a long-term option but perhaps you want something for a shorter term for an office space which you are leasing for 12 months? In this scenario, renting art would be the best option. You can also find a renting option whereby the artwork is changed every 3 or 6 months. This way your office, meeting rooms or reception area will have a regular fresh artwork up.
And finally, where to get what you want? Nowadays there are a good variety of options to choose from: Either you go directly to your local commercial gallery, search from numerous online galleries or contact an art adviser directly.
At the end of the day, art is emotive, just go with your gut feel.
How would you like your business to be the first one people remember?
You provide an excellent service at a highest professional level…. and so does your competition. Imagine, a prospect visits your office. They wait in the reception area and see an impressive artwork. Even if the piece is not their cup of tea, subconsciously they think that your business must do well if you can afford an original artwork. Then you greet your prospect and take them to the meeting room. And you have another artwork on the wall, another original one. Instantly you have a talking point. We must be able to talk about something other than the weather, right? What does the artwork say about you as a managing director of the business? What does the artwork say about the business itself? Thoroughly thought through artwork will make you memorable. It shows your prospects that your business is doing so well that you can afford to have artwork on the walls. It will make you seem bigger than you are.
Impressive artworks can be very affordable to rent or purchase. On 30th April, I will be talking about various ways to make your business memorable as part of the Black Country Business Festival. I will be also showcasing best examples of art to purchase, rent or subscribe to. If you are looking to keep your office space fresh and vibrant, then the subscription is the best option as I will come and change artworks every three or six months.
A Goldfish with Shark Fin, Monday, 30th April, 10am – 12noon
THE OLD BANK BUSINESS CENTRE, 43 – 45 Church Street, Darlaston WS10 8DU
Today we installed artworks at Copthorne Birmingham restaurant area. It is an Asian restaurant and we chose artworks which compliment the venue and the concept. Four artworks installed are all by Mark Howard. His oil paintings are quite decorative, but all have a scent of Asian Culture with them. Mark also runs Disorder Boutique and produces fascinating items of clothing and accessories.
I chose these artworks not just because of their contextual similarity with the venue, but also I considered the colours of the paintings and how they match the interior of the restaurant. The general manager of the hotel was quite thrilled to have Mark’s works on display, especially as he knows the artist as well. Finding suitable artworks for the busy interior is not an easy task, but I like the challenge and seeing the artworks installed in situ makes all the difference.
This Sunday I had a very delightful trip up north to Liverpool to visit Tate Liverpool and Bluecoat Gallery. It was quite unusual to see such a variety of shows all in one day: John Piper, Surrealism in Egypt,Roy Lichtensteinin Tate and In the Peaceful Dome and At the Heart of Liverpool Culturein Bluecoat Gallery. I was very interested in the Surrealism exhibition first and foremost because this is one of my favourite art movements, but I didn’t expect to be so positively surprised by other shows as well. Here are the exhibition reviews.
In the Peaceful Dome
13.10.2017 – 25.03.2018, Bluecoat Gallery
First stop was Bluecoat Gallery, with an exhibition which concludes Bluecoat’s 300th anniversary. Instead of having a purely retrospective show, Bryan Biggs, Bluecoat Artistic Director curated an exhibition where historical and contemporary art was in skilful conversation with each other. There is so much to the show, and I believe that it requires one more in-depth visit, but there were a couple of artworks and installations which impressed me a lot.
Whenever I visit an exhibition, I always look for something familiar, something I can make connections. And then I am after some new information, something that would motivate me to read and research a bit more.
It was great to see Birmingham based artist, Joanne Masding in this show in Gallery Four upstairs. Especially I enjoyed her New Rehang (Series 1) where she takes the images of the ancient artefacts out of their current context of the catalogue and places different pages with different eras next to each other. New Rehang (Series 3) uses similar images, but as holographic images on plaster.
Several artworks by Jo Stockham made a great impression on me: Empire Mode (1989), Prediction (1990) and series of nine monoprints. I had the pleasure to hear her talk during IMPACT 8 in Dundee (2013).Stockham is the Head of Printmaking Program at the Royal College of Art, and she often uses archive sources and maps in her artworks. Empire Mode was especially striking as a full-size axe in the shape of England (and Wales) as well as Prediction, which depicted a glass sphere with two miniature figures carrying a third one on a stretcher and an empty frame for a globe. These were made in 1989 and 1990, but are incredibly relevant to the current political situation as well.
A new surprise for me was Red Woman, Black Man (1932) by Roderick Bisson (1920 – 1987). Surprisingly, there is not much information available about Bisson online. Only that he was Liverpool artist, his artwork, albeit limited number were sold in auctions and that he was a pioneer of British surrealism. But it was interesting to follow up this with the discovery that British Surrealism didn’t flourish just in London, but also in Birmingham between 1930s and 1950s.
Bluecoat Gallery has exhibited an impressive selection of artworks over the years and Bryan Biggs has presented exciting parallels which are open to further discussions and conversations.
Bluecoat: at the Heart of Liverpool Culture
21.04.2017 – 25.03.2018, Bluecoat Gallery
According to the exhibition guide initially, the Bluecoat Gallery was a home for a charity school. It occupied the building since 1717 and this English Baroque style architecture became the UK’s first arts centre with the establishment of Bluecoat Society of Arts in 1927. The exhibition documents the development of the physical building which is the Bluecoat Gallery. It was great to follow the timeline and changes which this remarkable building went through.
17.11.2017 – 18.03.2018, Tate Liverpool
John Piper (1903 – 1992)was an English painter, printmaker and designer of stained-glass windows. He depicted a lot of landscapes in his early career and during WWII, he was the official war artists. He documented bomb-damaged churches and landmarks. But in the later life, he is known for his abstracts.
My first encounter with Piper’s work was at the Biddle & Webb Auctioneers in January 2015, when his screenprint Petit Palais: Pink and Yellow was sold for £1,000. This print is very impressive in its simplicity. A facade divided into four parts, with alternating positives and negatives. And then, in April 2015, an impressive example of an occasional table with his design sold at Biddle & Webb for £1,700. After that, I started seeing a lot of his prints circulating in the art market.
But it was a great surprise for me to realise that he is the author of the Baptistry window at Coventry Cathedral. Retrospective exhibitions are always fascinating as they show the path and development of the artist’s career. These are great to understand why something was created in a certain way. I am very fond of constructivism. Therefore I found Piper’s 30s artworks particularly interesting. The depiction of ruins is not my favourite visual, but Piper managed to present empty architectural elements in a way that is aesthetically pleasing. The Passage to the Control-room at South West Regional Headquarters, Bristol is one of those works. Although it is not a ruin as such, the perspective and arrows on the ground turn mundane architecture into the interestingly hidden passageway.
Surrealism in Egypt: Art et Liberte 1938 – 1948
17.11.2017 – 18.03.2018, Tate Liverpool
This exhibition most surprising to me and it had quite a similar ‘wow’ effect, as to find out about a separate surrealism movement in Birmingham. First of all, I had no idea that there was such a movement in Egypt and secondly, that such exciting and diverse artwork was created during that time. Perhaps there is partly a Europe-central education system to blame, and I am wondering why we don’t talk more about art in Egypt. After all, there is much more to it than just Ancient culture and pyramids. Or probably, the reason is just my ignorance.
The exhibition showed a variety of impressive artworks which all addressed specific aspects of political issues at that time. Either it was a response to the rising fascism, British military occupation or WWII. Compared to the surrealism in France it was interesting to observe the depiction of women in the artworks by Egyptian surrealists especially as they stepped back from the pure objectification.
Two artists who impressed me the most were Ramses Younane and Mayo.
Artist Rooms: Roy Lichtenstein in Focus
22.09.2017 – 17.06.2018, Tate Liverpool
After all the surrealism, abstract, politically loaded and historical art, it was a relief to see straightforward, entertaining, visually pleasing large prints with vibrant colours. Roy Lichtenstein has a very distinctive visual pattern which usually includes a blond woman and word or an expression in a speech bubble.
Finding new artworks is a significant part of our business. A lot of people have been asking me how am I sourcing artworks. Where do I find artists and why I have chosen those specific artworks. The immediate answer is – gut feeling. But there is much more to it than just that.
Going to the exhibition openings is ultimately my favourite way. I can see the artwork then and there and usually I will have the chance to speak with the artist right away, find out a bit more about the artwork, artist’s intentions and ideas behind it. The next step is a studio visit to see more artworks and ultimately choose the desired selection. Speaking with the artist within their comfortable environment is important. I am always interested in their background and what other activities they are doing. This way I understand artworks better and ultimately will be better in the communication with the buyers.
Another method is browsing artworks digitally. Finding the artist and their artworks online and then arranging a studio visit. Majority of artists have their full portfolios online, and therefore the preselection can be easily organised. But studio visit is equally important because then I will see selected artwork live and sometimes the actual artwork doesn’t look as good as it does online. But also vice versa, digital world doesn’t do justice to some artworks. Browsing exhibition catalogues allow pretty much the same thought process as with the digital one.
Sometimes people suggest me artists and artworks. This is quite hit and miss option as tastes are different. But at the same time, it depends on who is the one suggesting. I always consider that advice, and I am happy to look at the digital portfolios as you never know who you can find. I use this method also to assess people’s preferences for future reference, especially if they turn out to be clients.
Running an online platform for visual arts requires being us to be very confident in the end product, especially as the client will see the original artwork after they have agreed to the proposal. Digital samples where artworks are placed in situ in client’s venue is a must. Therefore visiting artists in their studios and seeing artworks before taking them on board so important.
No matter which way we find and source artworks it is crucial to have good relationships with the artists. They are trusting us with their creations, to look after them and to see a good home for them. And most importantly that the artwork compliments the environment it is placed.
Example: Sandra Owens’ studio visit
A couple of weeks ago, I went to Nuneaton to visit a fantastic studio run by a sculpture artist Sandra Owens. The warehouse unit with high ceiling is equipped and almost entirely self-sustainable. Sandra works with various materials and produces both design and art elements. She is very skilful in working with diverse materials like wood, plaster, glass, clay, concrete, plastic etc. Sandra also paints and takes mesmerising photos. Her ability to work on the borderline of design and fine art is excellent. Visiting her studio allowed me to understand the process of how her artworks come to life and also the reasoning and ideas behind them, as well as seeing the connections between various pieces of work.
Summer has finally arrived in the UK, and I found myself in London, exploring Clerkenwell Design Week during the two of the hottest days this year so far. Needless to say that it was a challenge, but well worth it. This was my first time at the event, and I didn’t know what to expect as I am used to mainly visual art fairs. My main aim was to find out about latest trends in the office space design and how can I incorporate art within that.
This year celebrates the eighth edition of the event. The slogan for CDW2017 is: Prisons, Churches, Nightclubs – and these indeed were the places where exhibitions were next to the independent showrooms, pop-up venues and outdoor installations.
On Wednesday, 25th May, I met one of my artists, Meriliis Rinnefor a catch-up and then we started exploring the area together. We popped into several shops and studios, saw a lot of office design solutions, different carpet and tile makers amongst others. We also found a great outdoor installation, Order by Aldworth James & Bond. It reminded us of traditional patterns from our home country, Estonia.
As a printmaker, my ultimate favourite was Stationery Porn Shop by Marby and Elm. Well, the name says it all. It had a fantastic collection of various figurines for letterpress with quirky words and expressions.
Great online gallery to purchase affordable and original artwork. They exhibited artworks by Tannaz Oroumchi at the event. Needless to say that they will be definitely one gallery I will keep my eye on. There are some fantastic artworks within their portfolio.
These are just some of many which inspired me. In general, it is fascinating to see the evolution of various office space solutions, with a lot of open plan solutions. Quite minimalist design, but bright colours seem to be an overarching theme. Everything appears to go back in time, back to the 60s.
I must say that I was well impressed with the whole event during the two days I spent there and am looking forward to the next year’s edition.
Sutton Coldfield’s most attended networking event – FNCF – at our new home “Ramada Penn’s Hall”
We had our biggest attendance yet in March with 74 delegates.
Sutton Business Network events are not “stand up 60 seconds” type of networking. The focus here is on social relaxed meetings, building relationships with decision makers in local business and creating advocates in a friendly atmosphere with like-minded people who you may not normally meet, who may be able to help you and your business and importantly you might be able to help theirs.
If you’re looking for networking to make a real difference to your business and be a valuable use of your time, book your place at our next event.
This month’s event is hosted by Jaanika Okk, founder of Okk Gallery, Jaanika will be introducing the gallery, its activities and how the gallery is building the bridge between art and business
12noon for 12:30pm start Price £19.50
This month’s menu is;
Traditional Fish n Chips
Vegetarian Option – Veggie Burger
Healthy Option Grilled Sea Bass
(Gluten Free Option on request)
Pint / Glass of Wine / Soft Drink
Coffee and Cake
After the speaker, there will be an opportunity for you to share a need, requirement or simply mention your business. Most importantly we invite you to come along, be sociable and meet great local business people so there is no pressure to do this.
Recently we started collaborating with HSBC, and as a part of that, we got an opportunity to exhibit and sell during their small business pop-up week at their New Street branch on 31st March. The main aim of the event was to showcase and support local small businesses who work with the bank.
It was a great day where we met lots of different people from various backgrounds and interests. The artworks and the service we sell are mainly targeted towards the corporate market, but the experience was very useful for further develop our marketing strategy. We received great feedback on the variety of our selection and managed to sell ‘Birmingham Skyline’ (last edition) by Peter Allen.
Other interests were quite predictable. Older generation preferred ‘Chasing the light: Calm’ and ‘Chasing the light: The Gap Between’ by Paul Hirst. But younger and mainly male audience was drawn towards ‘Batman’ by Dan Newso and ‘Dead Copyright’ by Antonio Roberts.
HSBC staff has been very friendly and helpful throughout the process and I am looking forward continuing working with them in the future. We would also like to say massive thank you to Van Monkey who supplied us with the transport of artworks.
First, I went to see Gillespie’s show on the 4th floor. His minimalistic installation caused instant errors in my brain because I didn’t understand why these elements were combined: construction fence with pieces of Hokusai’s Great Wave, King Kong holding Empire State Building and some clothes in concrete.
The fences mark out space, but act as a screen too. They are objects to look through, but they also momentarily obscure one’s vision. The cast concrete fragments have a definite front and back; a crisp, legible facade, disguising a roughly textured reverse.(Exhibition guide, Zoe Lippett interviewing Andrew Gillespie)
Regarding homage to Hokusai’s work: Gillespie took a photograph from the reproduction, enlarged it, transformed the sections into silkscreens and printed them onto the concrete elements. The original image was a woodcut colour print (c. 1830-1833) and now, enlarged many times finds itself on the part of an urban construction.
The dual surface was through element within the installation, with one side showing one image, but reverse totally different. For example like with the large King Kong sculpture which was missing its front, although the viewer cannot tell this looking at this work from one angle.
The exhibition spoke with me on the printmaking level first and foremost. I was fascinated with artist’s interdisciplinary approach, silkscreen print on concrete. In the age of constant reproduction, usage of traditional print techniques only as a craft is not respected anymore. A technique is just a means to achieve the idea and not the central figure, but it is always great to see when good quality traditional technique supports the concept.
Idris Khan ‘A World Within’
I walked down the stairs to the third floor just to be stunned by the aesthetics looking back at me in the first gallery room. Idris Khan grew up in Walsall, and therefore it is an important exhibition both for the gallery and the artist. He is currently living in London and represented by the Victoria Miro gallery among other galleries.
The artist depicted various key texts and sound pieces of our times by entire overlapping content of the book. And again, as a printmaker, I melted, because the artworks looked so beautiful, genuinely enjoyable aesthetics. Idris Khan used texts like Roland Barthes’ ‘Camera Lucida’, Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’ and The Holy Qur’an. A time-consuming technique of photographing each page and then digitally overlapping them produced a mesmerising effect.
But the most impressive work is probably Khan’s installation ‘Seven Times’ (Sandblasted oil-sealed blue steel cubes, 2010). I was so tempted to touch the surface of those cubes…
The scale, aesthetic and presence of the sculptural cubes directly reference the Kaaba, the huge black square structure in the heart of Meca that symbolises a conduit between heaven and earth. (Exhibition guide, Deborah Robinson)
I enjoyed the variety of cultures within Khan’s show. Considering the uncertain times within the global politics, it is great to see that art in the exhibition space is not influenced by this. It is a shame that not all visitors had the enthusiasm which I tried to project. I had a pleasure to speak with several of them and the feedback wasn’t what I expected. Mainly because of the lack of focus and willingness to read and immerse oneself into the explanation text by the curator.
Both exhibitions were visually pleasing and thought-provoking. I did find myself asking more questions then I found answers to, but it didn’t stop me from truly enjoying myself during the visit.