Like any decent city, Nottingham has a rich history of art that goes beyond the crude doodles in the gents toilets in some of the choicer pubs. No, from traditional paintings to contemporary international art, to some of the UK’s finest graff writers, you can lose yourself in arty, cultural stuff. To save you wandering around aimlessly, here’s our seven-point starter guide to Nottingham’s art scene...
To ease yourself in, we’ll start with what the ‘experts’ would probably refer to as ‘traditional art’. That’s the stuff that you’d have to pay to see at places like the Tate Modern or the Louvre. Totally free – although you’re welcome to drop some cash in their donation box – Nottingham Contemporary is one of Britain’s leading, and largest, centres for contemporary art. ‘Contemporary’ refers to pieces created in the 21st century, and could just be a chair sitting in the middle of a room or a bunch of skulls coming out of a wall, and it’s all about creating art to explain the world around us.
For some classic paint-on-canvas malarkey, get to Nottingham Castle. As well as hosting different exhibitions throughout the year, they also have their own fixed collections. One of these is the Riot 1831 Gallery, which tells you all about the night that the people of Notts went barmy and burned the castle down.
To continue your art quest, go somewhere like Surface Gallery, which is led by volunteers and showcases the real talent in the city. One of their most popular endeavours is the annual International Postcard Exhibition. The rules are: anybody can submit anything as long as it fits on a 6x4 postcard. They receive all sorts: digital art, photography, comics and collages. The diversity is a treat.
Another part of their calendar that’s well worth checking out is the Street Art Festival. It’s hugely popular and it’s easy to see why. As with all disciplines, street art takes many different forms and it’s not all about spray painting “Harry woz ere” on a wall. It can be anything from defaced images of models in magazines to bejazzled pictures of Miley Cyrus. The central exhibition spills out onto the alley walls at the back of the gallery, and the interior salon-style hang gives you a right eyeful. It’s open submissions too, so get on it with showcasing them skills.
While on the subject of bleddy mental street art, you definitely need to check this guy out. Known for his bold characters, Smallkid, aka Kid30, has been running a Nottingham-based urban design company for fourteen years and his work can be seen as far afield as Melbourne, Toronto and Barcelona. But most importantly, his work can be seen all over Notts, and with his clean lines and bright, cartoonesque aesthetic, it’s all very cool.
To start, get yourself to outside the LeftLion offices on Stoney Street. Smallkid has adorned our gates for a few years now, and the current mural is of a groundhog. Cross the road to the car park situated behind The Angel, and you’ll find a puppet line-up piece created in collaboration with other Notts street artists including Boaster. Pop down the ginnel that takes you on to Heathcoat Street and head to Suede Bar, where you can see a dragon and a shark who both appear very desperate for some pizza.
Mooching towards the Square, stop off at Ugly Bread Bakery, and check out the giant pieces on the walls of Cobden Chambers. Just off Market Square, both Alley Cafe and Sobar sport his designs. The work in Sobar is a painting of the whole street, on the walls by the loos. Finally, meander down by the train station to spot a very dapper looking 50p and some sort of deathly, evil creature holding a shoe. There are loads more cheeky pieces that pop up all the time, so keep your peepers peeled.
So you’ve been having a gander at other people’s strokes and styles, and maybe you fancy scratching your own arty itch. City Arts in Hockley are all about getting folk to take part, whether that be music, performance, or visual and digital arts. There are loads of workshops you can get involved in, like making decorations for the Caribbean Carnival or designing life-size paper puppets. They also do a lot of work with vulnerable young people and those with disabilities or mental health issues – they’re the all-round good guys we love to love.
Wielding your weapon of choice, go to Rough Trade on the last Thursday of the month and take part in Drink and Draw. Everyone’s welcome, everyone’s friendly and there are good tunes and beer on tap. Or try your hand at life drawing at The Place in Sherwood or at Malt Cross on St James’ Street; never will you have stared so long at someone’s bits without feeling weird. If you’re really serious, you could join the Nottingham Society of Artists, and access the painting groups and other activities they support.
No, we’re not promoting infiltration of government servers, or attempts to bring down Facebook or NASA. Hackspace is far cooler than that. It’s a place for people to get their creativity on in any way they damn well fancy. And we mean anything. Pop in any Wednesday for some ‘drop-in hacking’ where people work on loads of stuff like crafting, electronics, woodwork, metalwork, prototyping, robotics, filmmaking, animation… the list goes on. Hackspace have all the tools you generally don’t have room for at home and on Wednesdays you can use it all for free. You never know, you could walk in armed with some knitting needles ready for a night of serious scarf-making and come out having learned how to pimp your pushbike. The perfect place for those willing to share skills and for art dummies to make some art chummies.
One cool thing about the Nottingham art scene is that it’s not limited to the stuff you did in Year 8 art classes. Malt Cross host some proper crafty workshops, so that’s the place to go if you fancy doing some ceramics, making bath bombs, screen printing, or joining their monthly sewing group, Stitch and Bitch. Or maybe you’ve dreamed about making a zine full of crazy colours and images using Risograph, in which case, get yourself to a workshop with Dizzy Ink.
If you feel you’ve got a few years’ worth of dedication in you and don’t mind the, err, tiniest bit of debt, then look no further than the two universities. Take up a degree in History of Art at UoN or go to NTU, whose arty alumni boasts doodler Jon Burgerman and filmmaker Jonathan Glazer.
Notts has more than its fair share of quirky, arty independent shops and it would be a crime to leave them out. Starting with vintage stuff, Hopkinsons is full of old comics, tube signs and so many other bits and bobs to proudly display in your gaff. A copy of Vogue from 1975? – stick it on your coffee table or frame it on your wall, and hey presto, instant retro vibes. For all the lovers of the printed page and to get your fill of inspiration, Ideas on Paper is the go-to place for independent magazines on everything from wine to surfing.
If all our street-art talk has got you itching to get involved, Montana has the best selection of markers, inks and various goodies that any graffiti fan could ever ask for. If you’re all about looking unique and not wanting to follow the crowd, you can get your hands on some clothing and art designed by local artists and exclusive overseas brands at Mimm – a shop that’s dedicated to showcasing the fashion talent Notts has to offer. And, if you catch it at the right time, Spit and Sawdust on Mansfield Road is a good shout for retro tat and affordable original art work. If you’re feeling really flush, Hung on Derby Road is the place for ultra cool, collectable street art.
To find out more, check out the Nottingham Art Map.