Tag Archives: the barber institude of fine arts

Living City @ The Barber Institute

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, on the doorstep of the University of Birmingham’s Edgbaston campus, was founded in 1932 by Dame Martha Constance Hattie Barber in memory of her husband, Sir William Henry Barber. The Grade II listed Art Deco building features iconic sculptures, pastels and water colours assembled together in a ‘haven of tranquillity in a bustling metropolis’, as stated on the galleries own website. The range and quality of the collection shows that there is passion behind the choice of what is displayed. Recently, the theme of ‘Art and the City’ has prevailed in one of the Gallery’s smaller, yet incredibly innovative exhibitions.


‘Living City’ by Sarah Taylor Silverwood combines technical architectural accomplishment ink drawings with inspiration from the fantasy comic book genre and literary masters such as the Parisian poet Charles Baudelaire. Baudelaire’s image of a man walking out into the street and feeling the pulsing energy of the city, supplies part of the inspiration for Sarah Taylor Silverwood’s exhibition; ‘Thus the lover of universal life enters into the crowd as though it were an immense reservoir of electrical energy.’ (Baudelaire 1863)

Sarah is presently an artist-in-residence at the University, which provides artists with a studio on campus and an opportunity to engage with the diverse range of cultural experiences that the city provides. The scheme brings a stimulating addition to the culture of the University, for example she part designed a limited edition map celebrating the University’s artistic and social offerings as part of her 2012 residency with the Cultural Engagement department.

The intricate drawings are on layers of tracing paper, with separate sheets for ink and colour, which is a technique also used in the construction of comics. This reflects the evolving relationship between humans and the ‘universal life’ of the city. Her sketches are shown alongside in depth research, artist’s maps and sketchbooks which demonstrate the cultural profundity that her depictions of Birmingham’s skyline have been inspired by. Seeing the well known Birmingham and Digbeth landscapes in such detail makes you appreciate the city’s architectural structure and history.

living city

The biggest impact of her exhibition on the observer is a feeling of insignificance in the colossal presence of the city surrounding you. Even when the viewpoint is looking down on the city below, as in ‘Birmingham Skyline’, the observer is still amazed by the complexity and the depth the layers of tracing paper create. Her bare use of colour and clear, defined and detailed lines capture the strength of the buildings and the feeling of an energised, bustling culture.

The exhibition inspired me to consider my own opinion of the ‘Living City’ and my relationship with Birmingham, especially as it is one of the most cultural cities in Britain. It is true that when you walk the streets of Birmingham, you could not be in a more diverse area, and Sarah captures both post-industrial Birmingham and the city’s modern development. The exhibition is easy to relate to and this makes her collection a must see, not only for the general public, but for students in particular, so they can find a distraction from the stresses of University life for an hour to experience some of the artistic offerings the University has to offer. It is certainly worth a visit, and is a free way to experience a moment of peace and see our city from another point of view.

living city


Baudelaire, Charles “The Painter of Modern Life” [1863], in The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays [1964] tr. Mayne, Jonathan.


Holly Abel


Birmingham University Singers perform at the Barber Institute

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, situated on the university campus, boasts one of the finest small art collections in the country, showcasing works by Renoir, Monet and Van Gogh to name a few. Yet, the venue is further renowned for its regular classical music concerts which take place in its stunning concert hall, attracting both students and outside music-lovers alike.

A long established tradition at the Barber is weekly Friday lunchtime concerts which are free admission and feature recitals and performances from the university’s thriving music scene. The latest of these concerts was a performance by the Birmingham University Singers, singing a mixture of English, Italian and German madrigals and part-songs. They were accompanied during their performance by Robert Tibay and Gerald Lim who provided a continuo. Their conductor was Professor Colin Timms, whose obvious passion and knowledge of the madrigal genre provided an insightful glimpse into a style of music that perhaps not all would have been previously accustomed with.

The Madrigal has its roots in 16th Century Italy and is traditionally polyphonic in texture, unaccompanied and can feature up to eight separate vocal parts at a time. This leaves a great deal of scope for musical interpretation and the conductor works hard to ensure all parts are each given their own precedence amongst the array of contrasting chords and lyrical lines. This Friday’s concert featured an array of works by Monteverdi, Weelkes and part-songs by Brahms amongst others.

As for the singer’s themselves, their performance was extraordinary and there were moments of incredible musical understanding and collective empathy with the choral works. Even at times when the ensemble were singing at full capacity, the sopranos’ vocals had an ability to cut through the mass of harmonies and soar to the back of the concert hall, which resulted in awed expressions and smiles on the faces of some attentive audience members.

The biggest giveaway as to the success of the event was the very, very small number of spare seats in the concert hall. It seems that these Friday lunchtime concerts attract a wide following and have established a reputation which ensures listeners return to the University again and again. Even for the student populace, a chance to relax away from the glare of laptop screens and rigorous studying, I can imagine, is a welcomed relief. Before, I wondered why these concerts were perhaps not advertised widely but seeing the unbelievable turn-out it seems the Barber have little need to.

What is also wonderful about these concerts is the evident number of individuals from outside the campus who come to enjoy the music the University displays. It shows that the University of Birmingham has a prominent placing in Birmingham’s classical music scene, already well established and linked with the prestigious Birmingham Conservatoire and the The CBSO Youth Orchestra. I strongly urge anyone, either with imminent deadlines or just an interest in classical music to go along to the next concert on Friday 10th February where the University Music Scholars will be performing.

Words by Alice Grimes