Robbie Jeffcott Talks Psychedelic Jesuses And Ian Hisblop

Writer Reece Greenfield / Photographer Daisy Richardson

Recently, I caught up with Birmingham born and bread artist (and my drinking buddy) Robbie Jeffcott. In the evening sunshine in his Kings Heath back-garden we quaffed offy-bought tinnies and began to talk about his influences, his processes, and the results… his wonderful art.

“I’m very interested in Realism”, says Robbie. “Chuck Close for example… I am also inspired by graffiti and abstract art and that’s how my style has developed into what it is now… Realism is really impressive that people can do that… I want to put my own spin on that.”

Robbie is also proud to talk of the role his father’s art plays:

“My father passed away when I was young and my Mom had a load of drawings he’d done and it’s basically how I got into art. I thought it was impossible to get his soft tones on pencil, so I used to analyse his drawings and try and replicate them so somewhere I have a load of half down replicas of my father’s drawings.”

I’m interested to find out if there’s a unifying theme, something that Robbie likes to weave through all of his pieces.

“The way I use colours, I use them very mathematically in my head. with the colour wheel, if I want certain bits to pop, I will use the opposite colours so the way I use colour unifies my pieces.

“I really got into colour theory. Once you know how certain colours are perceived you can use them in different ways, for example green and red; red will come forward, green will go backward as green naturally has more depth.”

I know Robbie is an extremely versatile artist, so the specifics are key.

“The one I tend to use the most is acrylic. Acrylic dries super-fast. I can build up layers that way, do a layer, let it dry, build it up, that’s how I get all the chaos going on.”

Having featured on Sky Arts Portrait Artist of The Year 2021, I wanted to know if there were any projects that Robbie thought us fans should be keeping an eye on.

“Oh, I’ve got a good one for ya… I found this big, framed piece of Jesus in a charity shop – it was made out of mesh. I cut the face and hands out and put them onto a psychedelic body and it glows in the dark.

“People theorise that a lot of the Bible could be explained through psychedelics… Moses and the burning bush for example. So, I called it the Holy Quaternity, insinuating that there’s a missing piece.

“I also created these five characters all wearing different hats and I’ve pasted them all round  Digbeth outside independent businesses. I’m doing a treasure hunt, so if you have to tag me and the business and the first one to find all gets a free painting… I thought it would be a fun thing to do, a community thing, it gets people visiting small businesses.”

Anyone who’s walked down Gibb Street recently will no doubt have seen the giant Mike Skinner mural outside Autobrew. It turns out that was the largest piece he’d done and his first real experience with spray paint.

“My mate owns the bar and I said can I paint on that wall? I love that spot and he said he wanted a Birmingham artist, so he decided on Mike Skinner. In my head, it’s still not finished. So, over the next year or so I think I’m just going to keep adding bits on it if I have my pens on me.

“It was the first large scale piece I’d done and normally I’d use paints, but that was massive so I needed to use spray cans – I’d never used that before so that was all new to me.”

And of course I have to ask what it was like on Sky Arts.

“My Mom, for years, had told me to apply for the competition. You had to apply with a portrait of yourself, so I submitted it and got on the show. You have a celebrity sitter and have to paint them… for hours is no time.

“You don’t know who you’re painting until they walk in front of you.”

Well, who was it? None other than “Ian Hislop, ha ha!”

“He’s the worst person to paint ever, he’s got no definition to his face, he’s literally a big blop.”

Between laughs Robbie continues: “But yeah that was a good experience and it got me a lot of exposure. After that show I got a load of commissions in and that’s what kickstarted me to think ok I could actually do this as a job.”

Robbie’s art (including the Ian Hislop timelapse) can be found on his Instagram page @rjeffcott and around Digbeth. If you spot any of his pieces, be sure to tag him on social media and support local artists.

If you like what you see, you can also email rjeffcott1194@gmail.com for any bookings.

“There Was Something About Gays… And Judy Garland” – Riot Act at Birmingham Rep 12.05.22

Writer Ed King / Photographer Holly Revell

Riot Act, Alexis Gregory’s solo show, landed at Birmingham Rep as part of a ten date Pride Tour across the UK – produced by Emmerson and Ward, funded by Arts Council England, and road tested at the London LGBT literary salon, Polari.

A verbatim script of three separate interviews with men who lived, loved, and fought through pivotal moments in LGBTQ+ history, Riot Act is an hour of directly personal history – recanted and dramatised through a solo performance.

One man, three voices, and a visceral account of gay life and liberation – from the Stonewall Riots to the horrors and aftershock of HIV and AIDS – Riot Act begins with Michael, ‘a sixty five year old gay male’ who’s first night in New York was spent gathering hot water for battered queens during the iconic “perfect storm” on Christopher Street in 1969.

Arguably the turning point for gay liberation, or even the starting point, it would have been tempting to spend the next 60 minutes recounting tales of the iconic battle between New York’s finest and the Stonewall queens – when the Village fought back against years of police brutality, bullying, and a wider society with a woeful blind eye.

Michael’s memories are rich and Gregory commands centre stage with borrowed anecdotes – such as the NYPD choosing to turn up and turf out the Stonewall clientele during a Judy Garland screening of A Star Is Born, a week after the gay icon had died. Big mistake.

But the narrative and history lesson hands the baton to Lavinia, or Vin, who is “much more East End” – and introduces us to the “radical drag” scene of London’s pre-property boom era, when Notting Hill “was a dump.”

Switching from one clearly defined character to another, Gregory’s storytelling is wonderful, opening up the personal pages of another’s history and the shared memories of subjects – with a prominent thread tying all three together.

As the 60’s and 70’s lit a fuse of liberation, and that fuse started a glorious fire, the 80’s would respond with a tidal wave of loss and fear – as HIV and AIDS decimated a community finally starting to be recognised.

Lavinia explains: “HIV made us visible.”

But Riot Act is not a theatre show about HIV or AIDS, specifically, as Gregory would explain after the show the stories of the men interviewed dictated the narrative.

But as a man who grew up as a child under that particularly dark cloud, it is curiously pertinent to remind ourselves the word pandemic once meant something else. Something truly cruel and frightening, as Vin remembers going to “32 funerals in one month” and Paul recognises the “poor taste” of older gay men complaining about their advancing years as “some people didn’t even reach thirty.”

Short, bittersweet, and fantastically delivered, Riot Act is what many theatre critics would refer as a ‘must see’. But it really is – funny, entertaining, informative, original, and a directly personal oral history we should never forget.

So, live a little and learn something. And spend 60 minutes delving through the diaries of three gay men you’re unlikely to ever meet but who you can still get to know.

Coming to a theatre near you, although not back in Birmingham – Riot Act will also be streamed online in August, available through Alexis Gregory’s website.

Riot Act – offical trailer

For more on Alexis Gregory and Riot Act visit www.alexisgregory.co.uk/riot-act

For more form the Birmingham Rep visit www.birmingham-rep.co.uk

Trixie Mattel At Symphony Hall On 5 May

Writer Alex Shough / Photographer Marion Savary

When my partner’s friend realised they’d double-booked themselves and couldn’t make the Trixie Mattel show they’d bought tickets for in 2020, I was all like “oh no, I’m so sorry your friend can’t go with you, so I’m going instead right?”

Props to Becci for not checking her calendar when booking a holiday, appreciated.

It’s the perfect chance for my partner to wear their Trixie/Gazin dress and receive all the praise it deserves. And more importantly, the perfect chance for me to absorb all the ancillary praise having paid for it.

If you don’t already know (and hunny you should) Trixie Mattel is an American based drag queen and winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 3. After a 15-minute preview of Trixie Mattel’s new motel makeover show as some kind of a support slot, the show kicks off with a filmed sketch of Trixie visiting their gynaecologist, played by their UNHhhh co-star Katya Zamolodchikova.

What quality kitsch-smut.

Played in by their two-piece touring band, Trixie then took to the stage in the first of 14 outfits to the tune of ‘We got the look’, one of about eight songs they would perform. Yes, I counted the costumes but not the songs – priorities.

The performances, a greatest hits of originals and covers, are interspersed with some solid stand-up that even a straight cis guy could enjoy, Trixie’s bedazzled with several well executed costume reveals – plus one not so well executed costume reveal.

My personal-hetero-highlights include Trixie trying to be honest but relatable, singing ‘Hey Rich People’ to the front-row with those in nosebleeds distance playing the butt of the joke, and Jesse Eisenberg turning up (via recording) to applaud his own ode ‘Jesse’s Girl’. Finally, Trixie’s moving and brooding cover of Lana Del Rey’s ‘Video Games’.

I give the renowned ‘Skinny Legend’ and her stunning show £33 worth of thumbs ups, and a whole full Symphony Hall worth of ‘yay, free ticket!’

For more from Trixie Mattel take a look at www.trixiemattel.com

To find out what’s on at Birmingham Symphony Hall go to the BMusic website: www.bmusic.co.uk

Sámi Artist Britta Marakatt-Labba Exhibits: Under the Vast Sky – At Ikon Gallery

Writer Harry Croxford / Photographer Erin Connolly

The Ikon Gallery in Brindley Place conducts the first UK exhibition of Sámi artist, Britta Marakatt-Labba: Under the Vast Sky.

From iconic embroidered pieces to more recent experiments with sculpture, each piece foregrounds the struggles, cosmic mythology, and voice of the Sámi as they navigate state authority, colonising industry, and now, climate change.

The Sámi are indigenous peoples whose population spreads through the combined northern territories of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. These nations, and their artificial borders, divide the cultural region known locally as Sápmi.

Historically suppressed by these states – first through religion, then through industrial expansion – over the past few decades, contemporary Sámi artists have sought to reclaim their narratives and identities. Clothing, arts, and cultural practices like reindeer herding, have been centred in attempts to express the meaning of what it means to be Sámi today.

One such artistic medium is the yoik: a traditional form of song performed by the Sámi.

The yoik is malleable, yet personal. An expression of a singer’s identity, it is a most distinctly Sámi form, popularised by contemporary artists and singers seeking to navigate traditional identities and contemporary forms.

In this way, the yoik becomes a model for the Sámi artist-activist Britta Marakatt-Labba. Working primarily with embroidery as her medium, her meticulous and careful practice bridges narrative with image and represents scenes from her own life and from Sámi experience.

Particular scenes open out onto the broader cultural story like the yoik, as Marakatt-Labba remarks in an interview with Berlin Art Link: “My work is like singing a Sámi yoik: there’s no beginning and no end. It’s like a circle”.

As you enter Ikon Gallery’s second floor, the site of Marakatt-Labba’s first UK exhibition, you witness this circle. Scenes plucked from Marakatt-Labba’s childhood conjoin with the mythologised and historical.

Here: trees, felled for lumber as Sámi look on. There, the traditional and protected practice of reindeer herding. Elsewhere, Sápmi land with the cosmos above and underworld below represented through vivid depth and colour. Everywhere: events in time where each work communicates with one another, forming a distinctive symbolic vocabulary.

In ‘Garjiat/The Crows’ (1981/2001) shapeless dark forms impose themselves from the top of the canvas. The gaze lowers, and these blots of mottled embroidery turn into crows. This murder transforms anew into the black uniforms of Norwegian police. They trudge through the snow to violently remove Sámi protestors encamped in their Lavvu – a traditional temporary dwelling.

This piece is a documentary-cum-mythological representation of an episode in the Álta conflict in the 1970s, where indigenous populations of the Sápmi confronted the expansion of both state and industry. Its namesake originates from the flashpoint surrounding the construction of a hydroelectric plant in Sápmi land.

Ancestors, for whom the Sámi are in constant communication, invoke the presence and force of history. The past as it persists in this way is invoked in ‘Historja/History’ (2003): presented via a video installation and preparatory watercolour, the viewer is exposed to the painstaking process of craft.

Here, historical events co-exist with mythology. By narrativizing this, and through this vividly constructed panorama of Sámi culture, Marakatt-Labba invites the viewer to consider what is lost, gained, and meaningful about the narratives we tell ourselves.

This exhibition extends beyond the embroidered form that Marakatt-Labba is most known for: we see preparatory watercolour sketches, installation pieces, and extending from her recent interest: sculpture. But as the yoik is indivisibly, distinctly, Sámi, so is Marakatt-Labba’s unique work. Something she implores us not to forget.

You can visit Britta Marakatt-Labba: Under the Vast Sky at Ikon Gallery, until 29 May 2022 – for more details visit: www.ikon-gallery.org/exhibition/britta-marakatt-labba

For more from the Ikon Gallery take a look at their website: www.ikon-gallery.org

For more on Britta Marakatt-Labba visit: www.brittaml.se

Ikon Showcases Carlo Crivelli’s Shadows on the Sky

Writer Beth Exley / Photographer Jessica Whitty

Walking into the first-floor gallery at Ikon, one of the last things you expect to see are huge, gilded frames containing masterpieces from the Italian Renaissance, but that’s what you’ll get when visiting Carlo Crivelli: Shadows on the Sky.

For an organisation known for its work with contemporary artists, it is quite a radical move to show such works. But, for some reason, Shadows on the Sky feels like an organic and logical extension of Ikon’s usual work. Located on the first floor of the gallery, the white walls and pared-back display of Ikon allow the exhibition to really shine.

In the first room, you’re greeted by two small canvases that wouldn’t look out of place in a church. In a space that is often dominated by large abstract works or projection screens, long-time Ikon visitors may at first feel a little shocked or confused. However, upon closer inspection, these works hint at something beyond your typical fifteenth-century altar painting.

In both ‘Saint Mary Magdalene’ (c. 1491-94) and ‘Virgin and Child’ (c. 1480) the women are presented with elongated hands and necks – typical of the baroque-offshoot style called mannerism. However, Crivelli was painting in this style about fifty years before it became popularised by figures such as Parmigianino and El Greco. Now, I may be slightly biased as mannerism is one of my personal favourite artistic styles from this period, but it feels truly exciting to have works of this nature shown in a contemporary arts space.

Ikon Director Jonathon Watkins has long championed Crivelli as being ‘ahead of his time’ due to his understanding of the relationship between art and what it represents: a concept that became a mainstay of modern art almost 500 years later. Watkins points to Crivelli’s exploration of ‘material and spiritual realities’ within the same canvases as evidence of this claim.

This idea of the relationship between art and representation is explored throughout the exhibition – particularly in the largest work the ‘Annunciation with Saint Emidius’ (c. 1486) which illustrates the meeting of heaven and earth and plays beautifully with pictorial space. Crivelli’s works are rich and luxurious to behold, but they also have an impressive depth; you can truly get lost in them.

If you’re anything like me, you may find the use of QR codes for online exhibition guides popularised during the pandemic annoying – it makes me feel bad to be staring at my phone when trying to admire and understand a person’s artistic output. However, the exhibition assistants at Ikon usually have a few paper copies secreted away.

I’m glad I’m reading a copy as I walk around the space because I’m a little confused by the selection of Susan Collis’ work in the final gallery room.

Upon first sight I think some pieces of equipment have been missed out from the clean-up after install, but these contemporary works embody the same sense of irony captured by Crivelli which is the main basis for the exhibition. Everyday objects are inlaid with precious gems, which appear to be in the gallery by accident when you first see them.

The show is open until the 29 May. You can find more information about Carlo Crivelli: Shadows on the Sky here: www.ikon-gallery.org/event/carlo-crivelli/