Just a short walk from the centre of Birmingham is the self-proclaimed creative quarter of Digbeth, where street artists from around the world have made a mark on its once-bare brick walls.
Recently deemed the city’s coolest neighbourhood by the Sunday Times, the formerly industrialised hub is now home to digital natives, ruin bars and street food pop-ups.
Its strong independent culture is all the more evident in the artwork that adorns almost every corner.
David “Panda” Brown, who runs GraffitiArtist.com out of the old Bird’s Custard Factory, says the sheer volume of public art is what attracts artists to the area.
“Street art and graffiti to Digbeth, it is just the heartbeat of it,” he says.
“It just makes it so vibrant. It is ever changing as well, which is the beauty of it.
“It’s an exciting place to be.”
David says Digbeth had a mixture of “permission walls” and out-and-out illegal displays.
“The key is you have to seek permission to use them, it is not a free-for-all and because [of that], it makes the artwork really good.
“The rules of graffiti art are that you don’t go over something if you can’t do something better.
“Graffiti is all about the name, it is all about the tag. With street art it is… more about an image.”
The fact that some businesses have agreed to let artists paint on their walls is what brings artists in, says David.
He’s heard of people travelling from as far afield as Australia and the United States to admire the works sprayed on Birmingham’s bricks.
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“Graffiti artists love fame, that is why they do it, to try and get noticed.
“The photography, the Instagram side of things, that lends itself, because people need fresh stuff on social media.”
He says the innately urban nature of Digbeth has helped make it such a hub for artists.
“Because it is quite a gritty sort of place, it fits really well, it really frames the artwork,” he says.
“There are businesses around here that love it, [some] businesses hate it, which is fair enough.
“A lot of the artists who paint around here completely understand it and they know not to take the mick.”
David says he remembers when Digbeth was just an “empty area” in 1984.
But graffiti artists moved in not much later, when the hip-hop scene began to take off in the UK.
“I love Birmingham so much, I know it has got so much to offer,” he says.
“I want more people to come and realise that.”
Photos: John Bray
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