Thursday, May 16, 2024

Rue Britannia And The Search For Avalon

Before we exit the month of May (where is the time going?), I thought I'd share with you a couple of quintessentially British events we've enjoyed; one an artistic expression of the nation's obsession with class (specifically what it means to be working class) and the other, an event intended to evoke a romanticised vision of England in days gone by.  I may be digressing here, but if pushed to nominate songs for a soundtrack for each event, I would nominate God Save The Queen and Common People for our first event and the latter would feature The Village Green Preservation Society and most definitely Roxy Music's Avalon.  But enough of my feeble, cryptic attempts at suspense building, let's dive in.  

Last Thursday - the fifth consecutive warm and sunny day - we headed into Birmingham to catch local Black Country artist Dion Kitson's first major solo exhibition, Rue Britannia, at the Ikon Gallery, housed in a Grade II listed neo-gothic school building.  The exhibition is summarised as "Incisive, enterprising and laced with sharp wit, Kitson's artistic practice dissects British class and identity, reshaping its visual hallmarks and traditions across sculpture, installation, film and found objects."  

Growing up as I did in a working class family, art wasn't front and centre of my life.  My Dad was a history buff and we would visit castles, old battlegrounds and museums, but I don't ever recall being taken to an art gallery as a child and to this day, I'm painfully aware of gaps in my knowledge.  Dion clearly has a deep understanding of how the art world can be intimidating - even alien - to great swathes of a population still underpinned by our stubbornly entrenched class system.  The environment was warm and welcoming.  Our arrival just so happened to coincide with Dion's and we said a brief hello before he took to the stairs with a gaggle of exhibition visitors trailing behind. 


Inside on the top floor, there were four distinct spaces displaying Dion's work.  Playful and provocative, this included a pebble dashed living room inspired by the one in his Dad's council house (and yes, the original living room was pebble dashed), prints created from scratched bus stop windows... 

...and Dorothy's ruby slippers slung from a suspended telegraph wire.

We bumped into Brummy comedian (and now BAFTA winner) Joe Lycett by the bus stop windows.  Joe said of Dion - not to me but to the press (we're not close): "He understands the state of our nation better than anyone and why it is the way it is: funny and beautiful and dumb."

Visitors were encouraged to interact with Dion or each other over a game of pool (using mops, presumably because pool cues are expensive), as a nod to our beloved pub culture.

At times, the installations were so everyday, that you could be forgiven for walking straight past them.

We popped out briefly to grab a drink from the bar and returned to throngs of people...

...and Elvis, who had entered the building.  Befitting of the Rue Britannia exhibition, this Elvis was none other than "Yam Yam Elvis."  The expression "yam yam" might sound like an exotic vegetable, but it's actually used as a reference to someone from the Black Country, deriving from the local dialect for "you are" ("yo am" or "yam").  Incidentally, this wasn't the first time we'd witnessed a Yam Yam Elvis performance.  The last time he was on stage on the back of a lorry at a local VW show.  Such is life.

While I was fixating on Yam Yam Elvis, I suddenly became aware of another solemn figure standing next to me.  I hadn't spotted him initially and so the life size figure of a traumatised 12 year old Prince Harry (taken from the day he walked behind his mother's funeral procession), took me by surprise.  

Apparently, Dion has had a lifelong fascination with the Royal Family.

Here's Dion himself with his muse.

I deliberately didn't photograph every exhibit, because you really should go if you get chance.  It's playful, poignant, bizarre, beautiful and thought provoking.  So, job done!

Incidentally, such is the state of Birmingham City Council's finances, that the Ikon Gallery will have its funding cut by 50% this year and 100% next year.  For its 60th Anniversary, the gallery has launched a fund raising campaign.  You can read all about it here.

Ikon (

When Elvis had finally left the building, we headed downstairs and I photographed some of Birmingham's more colourful characters, including one Bob Teal, a wizard and Time Lord no less!

I also bumped into this gorgeous and creative woman, Ayesha.  We've followed each other for years on Instagram, but never met, although we immediately recognised each other and chatted like old friends about cats, photography, design and her latest passion, pottery.

 The evening took an even more unusual turn when Dion encouraged anyone willing, to join him at the pub.  Carried away on a tide of positivity, courtesy of good company, amazing weather and a glass of fizz from the free bar, we and around a dozen others, duly obliged.  I was hoarse the next morning from talking to so many different people.  A truly memorable night.

Two days later, we found ourselves in the grounds of Sudeley Castle in the Cotswolds, the burial place of Katherine Parr.  The Cotswolds has long been associated with high property prices and as home to the glitterati and aristo types, counting former PM Lord Cameron, TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson and supermodel Kate Moss amongst its residents.

We were there to see Avalon, the Medieval themed latest production directed by Cal McCrystal.  Considered one of the UK's national treasures, it's a great escape from everyday life for a couple of magical hours of thrills and circus skills.

We were joined by Vix and Jon and after a quick catch up in a sunny field over a beer, we headed into the big top to watch Merlin, King Arthur and co perform their hearts out.

As usual, I took way too many photos.  If you want to see more, click here:- kigswinford wedding photographer | Winter Peach winterpeach photography

We later accosted some of the key performers, cooling down after the show, who were happy to pose for a photo.  Merlin, aka Spanish showman Maximiliano Stia, messaged me on Instagram to ask permission to share this photo.  After all the fire eating, I expressed my concern for his throat.  He reassured me he was fine and attributed it to "the Merlin diet - eat the four elements."

Vix and I were channelling Medieval Chic; Vix in vintage Gunne Sax and a very pasty looking me in vintage Spectrum.

After a pub meal (our second at the 15th century Ye Olde Hobnails Inn), we said our goodbyes and headed home.  Back to reality...but not before passing this timeless scene.  

So there you have it.  Britain's great and good!


  1. oh wow! such a gorgeous post!
    you clearly had lots of fun at both events and both sound like something i would love too......
    thank you for the fabulous photos!!
    and speaking of love: love your green dress and you look like a medieval princess in it.
    <3 xxxxx

    1. Thank you very much!
      You would have loved both events Beate and would have been welcomed with open arms.
      You're very kind! xxx

  2. I've been dying to see that time travelling druid! Dion Kitson sounds such an interesting artist, he certainly attracted a cool looking crowd (you included) although that Prince Harry is a bit freaky.
    Yam yam Elvis! What a legend!
    Gifford's didn't let us down, did it? I loved every minute and your photos are absolutely brilliant capturing the energy and the sheer magic. What to treat to sit outside at Hobnails, too. They've definitely upped their game in the food stakes, I'm still salivating over that haloumi salad. Wasn't it strange how that man assumed that we were the VW owners out of everyone in that packed pub? xxx

    1. The Time Lord was bonkers (in the nicest way)! There's definitely a buzz about Birmingham at the moment and it's good to see a working class artist being celebrated - especially one living just up the road from us!
      Giffords was wonderful as usual and it was so lovely to dine al fresco. Yes, he must have had a sixth sense! Maybe he's a wizard too! :-D xxx

  3. What a wonderful post, Claire!
    I grew up in a working class family too, and although my parents were quite cultured, I never visited an art gallery until after I left home. I remember going to Middelheim only the once, when we had people over from Germany.
    Dion Kitson's exhibitions sounds intriguing and Gifford's Medieval themed production looks very magical indeed.
    I'm loving that evocative final photo, and thank you for the earworm: for some reason I've been humming The Village Green Preservation Society all along! xxx

    1. Thank you Ann.
      I think art galleries can sometimes be stuffy, although they have improved dramatically in recent years.
      You would have loved the circus and Dion's exhibition would definitely appeal to an Anglophile like you.
      Haha! It's a great song isn't it? xxx

  4. The report looks very interesting.
    Your photos are excellent, especially the last ones,
    with the top last one which I think (without being an expert) is up for a photo exhibition award.
    I liked your blog and am following!!
    Have a beautiful Sunday!

  5. What a fascinating exhibition. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  6. Wow, fabulous post, Claire! I enjoyed reading and seeing pics at the art exhibition. I grew up middle-lower class (hand-me-downs, not much money) to middle-class once my mom went to work (we were latch-key kids), but my mom's an artist, so we were exposed very early to a lot of art, art history and theatre in particular. Very lucky!

    I loved the pics from the circus! How amazing that must have been! Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. Thanks Sheila! You got a head start then!
      Giffords is always amazing. x

  7. Hello Claire, what a wonderfully vibrant post! Joe Lycett has it spot on - 'funny and beautiful and dumb'. The exhibition looks super. (The circus looks so exciting too! )

    Pebble dash on the living room wall! Now that beats woodchip. My working class mum immersed me in gallery visits, museums and classical music concerts from a young age. Growing up in Manchester, I wasn't completely aware of a class versus creative activity divide until I moved away. I can thank the city's free galleries, museums and council lead music service for that. Lulu x

    1. It's been a busy few weeks Lulu. It's all or nothing sometimes isn't it?
      Glad you enjoyed it anyway.
      Having spent the run up to Christmas one year removing old woodchip from our walls, courtesy of the previous owners, I'm anti anything other than paint or wallpaper adorning our walls - and that can be a pain to remove too!
      I think city life definitely helps increase a person's exposure to art and culture. We have to make more of an effort in the suburbs. xxx

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