Many UK cities have a Piccadilly. Everyone’s heard of London’s Piccadilly Circus and Manchester’s Piccadilly station, but Birmingham has the best – Piccadilly Arcade, with its magical ceiling artwork.
In the centre of our second city, Piccadilly Arcade is a shopping arcade with a difference. A former cinema, it has been a shopping arcade since the 1920s, and is currently home to small, independent retailers such as jewellers, tailors and a coffee shop. It’s one I walk through every day in my lunch break as it leads from my office to Tesco’s on New Street.
It took me six years’ worth of these walks to finally look up and notice the ceiling is decorated with seven huge rectangular paintings with gold frames. I’m no art critic, but they look like oil paintings to me and are pretty impressive.
Automatically, I assumed they would involve biblical nonsense – a first glimpse shows brilliant blue skies and thunderous clouds, a bit like I imagine Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel would look like (not that I’ve ever been to see it). But on closer inspection, they depict a bizarre series of events involving parachutes, helicopters and telephone boxes.
The paintings have been there since 1989, and are the work of artist Paul Maxfield. They even have a name – A Life in the Year of the Chinchillas.
There’s probably some story that connects the different paintings, but it’ll take me another six years to work out what it is. I’m not sure if my neck muscles are up for staring at the ceiling as I walk – I was getting a lot of strange looks from passers by when I took these photos. I doubt if they’d ever noticed them before.
Next time you’re in town, or have to change trains at New Street station, why don’t you take a look? It’s only a 30-second walk from the Navigation Street exit, although remember that the gates at either end are locked at night to keep out the riff-raff.
Just follow the yellow signs to “New Street and Victoria Square” from the main concourse.
And don’t forget to look up.