Is Stourbridge savvy again? A trip to General Office Gallery

Updated: 15 hours ago

Today I went to Stourbridge to find out if contemporary art had made Stourbridge savvy again. I almost used the word ‘sexy’ as in ‘Is Stourbridge sexy again?’ But I reasoned I may be one in only a few who ever viewed the Grebo rock band riot that exploded in the 80’s and 90’s sensually appealing. Exciting and important, definitely, but crushy? Well anyway, I’m a bit weird, but back then I fancied all the bands over there in the Stourbridge scene and they partly inspired me to form and front my own rock band ‘delicious monster’ over here in Birmingham. In my defense, I have since then had the honor and pleasure of spending time chatting with Miles Hunt of the Wonderstuff in his cottage hideaway, for my art radio installation ‘Truth to Material’ and have caroused around concerts and restaurants with the incredible musician Richard March, of Pop Will Eat Itself, to name drop a couple from that era. I have also written an album of songs with PWEI drummer Fuzz Towshend. So, I’d say that I’m proof worthy that the town held swagger for good reason.

Here I am today then intrigued by stories from fellow artists about a brand-new contemporary art gallery that has refused to allow the closure of every worthwhile art and museum project in the area; (there isn’t even a cinema in the town), to cause the city and its stories to be lost in time forever. There is now, I was told, a fighter in the ring who is winning under extreme, unfunded, month by month pressure, to provide a space for visions, ideas, dreams, expression, and local history from the perspective of visual and concept art and artists. You know, the stuff of life really. I had to meet him.

I caught the number nine bus up the Hagley Road. I’m still fascinated by Midlands areas, and I wanted to see how long it would take for you to get there from Brum if you aren’t driving. I popped my headphones in and listened to one album, Fontaines DC, If you must know, and I was there. A short walk from the bus station to my left and I could see the COOP Funeral home, but don’t be depressed, it’s all life from this point forward! Just to the right of this building there appeared a Tee board in front of an entrance that led to an upstairs wonderland. The space is currently walking access only, but he needs your time, patience, and support to afford to make it disabled friendly too. Who does? Simon Meddings the artist and director of the whole thing that’s who.

It was my lucky day. I met him as soon as I walked into the main gallery room. What were his first words? ‘Hello Rachel, would you like a glass of water?’ He knew me!? That was a lovely surprise and I guess a good indication of his arts awareness. If he knew me, then Simon has insight of music and arts on many levels. My happy little, self-imposed, alternative corner of the world, with my mission to document my life seasons and my passion for the Anchor Gallery Collective (more about that on another day) as well as leading names from all eras and categories were known to him.

His acute vision literally extends to his own work, he has documented the journey of his eyesight. His ongoing battle to save it has been gloriously re-imagined onto large circular art works that reveal much about himself and his outlook on the gallery. ‘To see’ are the watchwords. The words for his own life and the words for his lifetime devotion to the arts. He has enabled over thirteen exhibitions over three years in the gallery so far, that’s including a year in lockdown. He has transformed an unwanted hidden space above a funeral parlour into a bright and comfortable monument to the very now in the arts, while remaining loyal to the past. (He’s the man who curated the Staffordshire Hoard exhibition by the way. He got to touch it while it was still covered in soil. I was so jealous).

Simon has salvaged local work too. Work that could so easily have been discarded. He once took a phone call from an elderly lady who had found a lifetime’s bundle of watercolors created by a deceased relative. It was about to be thrown on a skip. But Simon had other ideas, he saved it and created an exhibition and auction for it. It was a total success. Effort was appreciated, beauty was restored, hope was given. Isn’t that so important in the current climate? I believe so.

The current GO Gallery exhibition ‘The Drawbridge’ was developed to show what lockdown did creatively to a multitude of visual artists. My favorite in this current show was Louise Blakeway, self-examination, the truth about physical thoughts and stature, just brilliantly captured in portraiture. I love her.

Simon and I talked for two hours. I was enthralled by his stories the whole time. There is so much more for you to know too. I hope you go to meet him. So, is Stourbridge savvy again? Well, it is if you want it to be. Simon is doing his part; he just needs you to go visit the gallery. For myself, I decided to collaborate with Simon on future exhibitions. I’ll be there. Make your own mind up if that’s sexy or savvy or not. But It’s happening. The General Office Gallery says Go! When the world of arts funding cuts says, ‘No’ That’s really something special. Isn’t it?

General Office Gallery, 12 Hagley Road, Stourbridge, West Midlands, DY8 1PS, 01384396100

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