Friezeing the campus

Nearly two years after being opened,, the University of Birmingham's Bramall Music Building in Chancellor's Court has seen a a frieze installed beneath the buildings parapets.  The ceramic frieze by internationally renown artist Peter Randall-Page,, has helped ensure the building which now completes the semi-circle of Chancellor's Court matches the original buildings.

During the past 25 years Randall-Page has gained an international reputation through his sculpture, drawings and prints. He has undertaken numerous large scale commissions, has exhibited widely and his work is held in public and private collections internationally.His sculpture can be seen in public spaces throughout the UK and his work is in the permanent collections of the Tate Gallery and the British Museum amongst others.

The frieze design completes the semi-circle of ceramic friezes which decorate the pavilions at the top of the original blocks.  The friezes were created by Robert Anning Bell, a central figure in the Arts and Crafts movement between 1905 and 1909. 

The photos below show some of Bell's friezes.

The friezes comprise of a grid of 6” square tiles and cover nearly a thousand square feet. The technique used is called ‘sgraffito’ involves using terracotta tiles dipped in cream coloured slip. The slip is then scraped away to reveal areas of terracotta on a cream ground, giving a two colour image. Bell’s clear linear style was highly influenced by Italian Renaissance art and brings together his skills in the use of ceramics and illustration. The friezes represented substantial artistic achievement and took over 18 months to execute.
Chamberlain wanted the University to ‘take some colour from its environment’ so the frieze designs act to relate the University to the Midlands and its technological industries of engineering, metalwork and mining. Each frieze illustrates the subjects taught in that block and their design helps to assert science and industry as priority at Edgbaston. Blocks A, B and C, feature images of the Midlands at work; men at the furnace, using technical equipment, and engaging in physical hard work with pickaxes and anvils, under the gaze of well-dressed professionals directing the activity. What’s difficult to see from the ground is the detail in the background of these friezes which represent integral parts of the scene; an impressive viaduct or fine electric cables and a grand suspension bridge.

The frieze over the central building depicts the Goddess of Learning handing over the baton of scholarship to men which expressed Chamberlain's vision for Birmingham embracing the European tradition in culture.

The frieze by Randall-Page is made up of 910 handmade terracotta tiles and contrasts with Bell's work being a contemporary design but still uses the same traditional sgraffito technique Bell used.  The abstract design is derived from 'the visual interpretation of improvisation in jazz music and will offer a stylistic contrast to the figurative friezes of the surrounding buildings',

You can see a fabulous gallery of the development of the frieze from ideas to manufacture on flickr, 

The photos below show the frieze adorning the Bramall building.  Not only does the frieze complete the semi-circle of buildings but adds another piece of art to the campus.


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