As part of our series on ‘Sustainable, Clean and Creative Balsall Heath’ we feature Artist Elliott Packham. Earlier this year, Elisabeth Charis spoke to Elliott about his artistic practice, navigating lockdown and his role within the artistic community at The Old Print Works.
Elliott Packham is a Balsall Heath based artist whose work is inspired by a broad range of modernist architecture, with a particular passion for the bold structural forms of brutalism. He works with acrylic paint using a hard-edged painting style, creating large scale pieces based on the facades of different buildings that he’s visited, photographed and been impressed by.
I like straight lines. I have a perfectionist side of my personality and think that my art allows me to express that. Perfectionism can sometimes be a negative characteristic and has been for me in the past, as by being a perfectionist all the time you can easily set yourself up for failure and disappointment. Over the years I’ve had to learn that it’s impossible to achieve perfection in all aspects of life, and to sometimes accept just doing enough. My art is an outlet that allows me to be a perfectionist, within reason, and I gain a lot of satisfaction from that. You can control paint to a point, but paint will do what it wants sometimes, and I have to accept that. That’s part of the process.
I went to study architecture at university but dropped out after a year. That year wasn’t good for me creatively. It knocked my confidence as I unfairly compared myself to the other students and came to the conclusion that they were all better than me. So instead I came to Birmingham University and studied Business Management. I didn’t paint for about 7 years and then picked it up again about two and a half years ago. I’d forgotten the therapeutic value of art. Just having that time where it’s you and the canvas and there’s nothing else there. I like to disconnect myself from social media and just concentrate the on painting. We live in a very complicated world and art, in some ways, is very simple. I like it in that sense.
It’s helped me massively to come into a space where there are other people. It’s helped me be able to articulate my art a lot better than I used to. I didn’t know how to express it before. At The Old Print Works there’s quite a big community of artists, makers and creatives. Having other people around has inspired me to try and reach out a lot more to the community, so I’ve organised some events in the building.
We did an Open Studios in September 2020. We had around twenty different artist and makers take part, as well as other non-art organisations such as the Balsall Heath Local History Society and the Bike Project, who restore bikes and give them to refugees. The event was open to the public and went really well, with just over two hundred people attending. We had to make quite a lot of adjustments because of COVID. We had a one-way system. It meant that everyone got to see the building and see what goes on there. That was great. The people who looked round The Old Print Works got a lot of out of it as well.
We tried to do an event at Christmas but we had to move it online. It was all very last minute because of announcements. We tried to gather information from each person and just tried to shout about it as much as possible on different social media channels. Over the weekend we scheduled a lot of Facebook and Instagram posts highlighting each individual or business. I think everyone was feeling a bit down because of the restrictions. So we were just trying to do something at least, rather than just cancelling the whole thing.
Nobody’s seen my work since September 2020 but I do feel very lucky that can still do the activity that I really like, which a lot of people can’t do. I have another part time job so my studio days are Thursdays and Fridays. My studio is a shared space with two other people but they’re not in so much. It’s been quite quiet and of course we can’t have visitors.
My whole process starts with a technical drawing based on a building. Then I’ll use masking tape and at least three coats of soft body acrylic paint to create solid colour for each area I’m painting. It’s quite a long process, but I seem to be attracted to things that take a lot time! My most recent painting has taken comfortably over 500 hours.
The first time I showed my work to anyone was October 2019 at The Old Print Works as part of Birmingham Open Studios. After this I made the decision to reduce my hours at my regular job in order to pursue art, but then the pandemic hit so it made me think twice! But then I realised, no, you’ve wanted to do this for ages. Lets just do it. It’s not a great financial decision but I’m still happy I did it.
I used to be quite a serious Triathlete during and after uni. This took up quite a lot of time in terms of training hours. I still do quite a lot of exercise and training but it’s more for fun and enjoyment rather than for competing’s sake. I think I have quite a similar mentality towards art as I did to triathlon. Both require patience and going through a process that involves not thinking too far ahead and instead just concentrating on the part you’re doing right now.
Social media’s not something that comes naturally to me. I’d rather meet someone in person and have an extended conversation. So I’ve had to learn to use it more regularly to promote my work especially during the pandemic, including starting to do a bit of video content. I haven’t got to the point where I’m sat in front of the camera yet, talking! I did a Q&A a few weeks ago, which I’ve never done before, which was really good. I’m just trying to adapt with the times and try different things. You can’t rely on people stumbling across your work in exhibitions so you have to put it in front of people.
For my art, I just want to get it in front of people. As soon as we can, I’d like to try and do another big event at The Old Print Works and re-establish the momentum that we had pre-lockdown. For me personally, doing the work doesn’t change too much but I’d like to be able to meet more people and have that face to face interaction again.
The thing that drew me to The Old Print Works was that it and the area around it has so much potential. If I can play a small part in realising that potential – that’s something that’s quite exciting. There’s so much creativity just in the building alone. From my student days it wasn’t necessarily an area that was talked about but there’s something that’s quite authentic – I don’t know if that’s the right word – but it feels like there’s a real community in Balsall Heath and a lot of people wanting to make it better.
You can read Elliott’s artist’s statement and view and buy his work directly on his website – https://www.elliottpackham.com/. He is also part of a Birmingham based website called Cosimo, an art selling website which charges 0% commission. You can connect with Elliott through Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
Sustainable, Clean and Creative Balsall Heath is a series of portraits of local people and projects supported with funding from The Active Wellbeing Society.