In pictures: Finding beauty in rugged sights of the Black Country


TiptonImage source, Tom Hicks

Image caption,

This image of Tipton is among the artist’s work looking at the cultural history of the Black Country

By Vanessa Pearce

BBC News, West Midlands

Stunningly colourful images featuring the post-industrial landscape of the Black Country in the West Midlands have been brought together in a new collection.

The work of artist, writer and curator Tom Hicks focusses on the typography, signage and street signs of his local area.

He said he was trying to showcase the “sometimes hidden beauty” of the boroughs in his compositions.

Kingswinford-based Hicks, 50, said he takes the images while “drifting” around unexplored areas on his bike.

Image source, Tom Hicks

Image caption,

The pictures are posted on Instagram under his Black Country Type account

Image source, Tom Hicks

Image caption,

The project reflects his focus on signs, lettering and words in the urban environment.

A book published later this month features 100 images, with an associated exhibition also to be held in Manchester.

The self-taught photographer uses a smartphone to take the images across Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton, which he shares with his thousands of Instagram followers on his Black Country Type account.

He had started taking the pictures for his own enjoyment before discovering there was a theme to them, he said.

“There are all these really great examples of obscure graphics which are unique to factories and buildings in the area.”

In 2018 his Instagram postings drew the attention of local arts organisation the Birmingham and Midland Institute which asked him to exhibit his work.

“Because of it’s location, in the middle of Brum, it picked up lots of other attention, and so it has just gathered momentum from there really,” he said.

The images are always presented in a square format, he explained.

“I think it stems back to when I was a kid and like looking through my parents records. There were no art books in my house”.

Using a smartphone was “liberating,” he said, and cycling gave him flexibility to find things “people would normally drive past or not pay attention to”.

The artist relies on direct sunlight to capture colours in the landscape sometimes challenging perceptions about the Black Country, he said.

“A lot of people just see it from the train, and train routes generally follow industrial areas, so I think people don’t actually see the complexities of the area,” he added.

His pictures and posts also involve an element of humour.

“I do like a really funny bit of graffiti or juxtapositions between things as well,” he said.

Black Country Type is published by The Modernist with a launch event and book reading at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery, 1 Oozells Square, on 28 September.

The Modernist’s exhibition at 58 Port Street, Manchester runs until 28 October.

All images are subject to copyright.

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