A billboard project will see the work of world-renowned painters displayed all over Birmingham during April. Jon Perks discovers the inspiration behind 48Sheet.
Art on a large scale is nothing new – just think Monet’s huge canvases of water lilies, Cezanne’s bathers or Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon.
There’s also bonkers Bulgarian artist Christo, who made his name wrapping famous landmarks such as Berlin’s Reichstag and the Pont-Neuf bridge in Paris.
While using billboards as public art has been done before by the likes of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, a new project hitting the streets of Birmingham next month takes the humble advertising space to a new level.
This is big art.
From April 2-29, the 48Sheet project (named after the number of sheets it takes to cover a standard billboard) will transform up to 100 spots in Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Walsall by commissioning dozens of artists (both local and international) to create eye-catching public “artistic interventions” to make what must be the world’s biggest ever public art gallery.
This groundbreaking project, which carries the theme of “cultural curiosity”, is the brainchild of Claire Farrell, founder and creative director of EC Arts, whose previous work includes the Festival of Extreme Building and the transformation of Digbeth Coach Station as part of the area’s 2009 public art project and £15 million redevelopment plan.
“It was working on that when I learned all about urban planning and the Big City Plan and it just fascinated me,” she said. “It opened my eyes to how much it takes to change just a small section of the city.”
It was around that time that the economy began to nosedive, but Ms Farrell was already working out how she could expand the public art programme using what was already in place.
“I just looked up at a billboard and thought ‘wow’ – we’re inundated with them and sometimes they’re really clever and make you smile and sometimes they’re awful and my mind edits them out, but they’re a prominent feature in our lives, you can’t avoid them.”
Having tested the water with a pilot project of half a dozen billboards around Pershore Street in September 2010, the “adult” 48Sheet – which has been supported by NEC Graphix – will use dozens of billboards across the region, exhibiting work by numerous artists from as far afield as Pittsburgh, Toronto, China and India, as well as many local and emerging artists from the UK.