Shelley Carter caught up with Alex Edwards of Brumhaus about the city’s changing skyline, modernist influences and Russia…
If you’re on Instagram and you love Brum, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the modernist cityscapes of Alex Edwards at Brumhaus. What began with a sketch of the brutalist Old Central Library on a post-it note, has morphed into a successful career and a style that’s instantly recognisable.
With a degree in Visual Communications and a career in graphic design pre-Brumhaus, Alex describes his geometric depictions of Birmingham’s built-up skyline as ‘pictures that are patterns, but are also recognisable’.
When the company Alex worked for relocated, his commute became an opportunity to take in the built-up city centre and he started drawing. He says: “It was a labour of love initially.” The Old Library sketch which was picked up online and given some love on social media, was a catalyst to go it alone. Leaving a stable job as a graphic designer was a bit daunting.
Alex gradually went from full to part time and then finally took the plunge in 2017. He says: “There was no masterplan. It was a bit of a leap of faith.” Inspired by Picasso – his Bull picture is an homage to the artist – and Paul Klee of Bauhaus hence the name, as well as sculptor William Mitchell who specialised in concrete relief, Alex’s work reflects his love of a built-up skyline.
He’s given many of Birmingham’s best views the modernist treatment such as Old Joe, Digbeth, Gas Street Basin and many more. Alex says: “I choose to draw things that people identify with. For example, Digbeth High Street. A lot of people love that place.”
The process Alex uses is satisfyingly ordered. At a time when we’re in control of very little, it appeals hugely. An initial pencil sketch on a grid which helps create the composition is then redrawn a few times before being put through graphics software and printed on top quality paper. Alex explains: “I’ve used the software for 20 years. It allows me to make changes toward the end of the process like adjusting colours or adding definition. You know what you’re going to get and I think as an artist it’s important to have a process. It’s part of my success.”
With Birmingham’s skyline changing significantly, there’s much to do. “I’ll have to update Colmore Row when 103 Colmore Row is finished and St Paul’s needs updating too. I’ve been planning to draw the Floozie for a while, but there’s talk of reinstating the water, so I’ll wait a while.” He adds: “There are big changes in Eastside obviously and I’ve a pencil sketch of Grand Central that I keep coming back to. I’ve also done Sutton Park which was a bit different as it’s all organic shapes. Generally, I prefer drawing buildings.”
FROM RUSSIA VIA BRUM
There’s a limited edition print on sale now that emerged from a project designing merchandise for Russian band Blues Bastards for their single, Lights Out . The Russian connection seems quite random, but apparently not. EKBrum Music Session 2020 was an online event that took place last year bringing together musicians from Birmingham with those of similarly industrialised and populated Russian city, Ekaterinburg – a sort of modern day town twinning through music. Alex got involved creating graphics to promote the event fusing the skylines of both cities. The Blues Bastards work came on the back of it.
Alex has worked from his home studio since Brumhaus began, it’s just now he’s doing it with more people around and more frequent requests for snacks! Aside from one local gallery in Sutton, Brumhaus sales are predominantly online, so Covid restrictions haven’t affected the business as much as some. Alex largely credits that with having a sizeable and engaged social media following as well as the trend for home improvements during lockdown.
One thing that has changed is that Alex isn’t taking commissions and working to other people’s briefs anymore which means output has increased. Local arts markets have been missing from the Brumhaus schedule, but as we write, there’s hope of restrictions lifting, so Birmingham’s creative community can get back to meeting customers and one another again. Alex says: “2020 was strange and I think we’re just all working out what 2021 will mean. It’ll be great to see actual people.” Amen.