The Wall - Public Art
As part of the construction of Hockley Circus in c1968 it included a large public art concrete wall by the late British Sculpture William Mitchell which lies underneath the main flyover (A41) spanning three corners of the public space.
William Mitchell (1925–2020) was an English sculptor, artist and designer. He is best known for his large scale concrete murals and public works of art from the 1960s and 1970s like this one at Hockley Circus installed c1968 during the construction of the Hockley Flyover (A41).
He is well known for his heavily modeled surfaces that created a distinctive language for his predominantly concrete and glass reinforced concrete sculptures. Sadly many of Mitchell's concrete sculptures have been neglected some of his remaining works in the UK are now being recognised for their artistic merit and contemporary historic value - see Three Tons Sculpture in Coventry or the Story of Wool in West Yorkshire as an examples.
Mitchell's concrete mural in Hockley Circus doesn't have any heritage conservation protection and forms part of the public realm of public art managed by Birmingham City Council.
The Climbing Wall Hockley Flyover photographs of local Climber Roo Webborn on the wall taking in 2020 by Tracey Thorne
Some Things to Think About
Our photo survey of the wall and from talking to people the main issues identified was that lack of historic conservation protection for William Mitchell's concrete mural and the practice of graffiti removal by the local authority.
Birmingham City Council's current contractor Kier undertakes graffiti removal as part of that contract this includes a process called buffing where the graffiti is painted out in grey or another colour as shown in the photographs below.The buffing on William's Mitchell wall by Kier is either in grey paint or red on the terracotta section.
Many people feel that the practice of buffing doesn't stop graffiti and in fact it just provides a refreshed canvas to invite more graffiti. Some think it should be left.
We asked Birmingham City Council for comment via a Freedom of Information see their response below.
What assessment has been done to preserve the public art works by (William Mitchel) in this area and does the buffing out by the contractor applying grey paint over the concrete comply with any advice from a conservation specialist to manage graffiti on this part of Hockley Circus?
BCC Cultural Development Service nor City Design and Conservation team have never been consulted on graffiti removal on the art work. From a conservator’s point of view, painting it grey is not recommended. Again, from a conservation and cultural point of view, it could be worthy of statutory listing by Historic England.
BCC Cultural Services have discussed this process of listing and protection with a specific area stakeholder approx. 1 year ago to see whether there could be traction in taking this forward with Historic England and voluntary-led conservationist groups collaboratively. Cultural Services and Conservation representatives from the City Design and Conservation team would be open to discuss this process.
Useful Resources and Information
Books - Self Portrait: The Eyes Within, William Mitchell
Art - Serenity Wall is a collection of nine cyanotypes of the wall made by Tracey Thorne
Walk or Cycle - from Birmingham city centre it is only around 15 to 20 minute walk. Start at Colemore Row and head down Livery Street at the bottom take the subway across to rejoin Livery Street (on the Jewellery Quarter side). Head up the slight hill all the way until it meets Constitution Hill (A41) keep walking straight on to Great Hampton Street and after about ten minutes in flows into the Hockley Flyover. Here you can take the subway into Hockley Circus where you will see Mitchell's three concrete walls.
If you drive you will find a cheap pay and display car park underneath the flyover at the bottom of Soho Hill. Then recommend walking down subways either side not the one directly in the car park (that's mighty grim for 1st timers). Bus Stops all really close and tram alight at Great Hampton Street see above walk instructions.