There’s something of Sherlock Holmes about Neil Holland’s tour for Still Walking: Hidden in Plain Sight – The Sculpture of William Bloye. Bloye is surely Birmingham’s most prolific sculptor and the city centre contains dozens of examples of his work. But few among us would be able to identify his work if prompted. How is it we have largely forgotten one of the city’s great artists, who for three decades in the twentieth century was a highly sought after sculptor? Neil was hired by Still Walking to investigate the mystery.
Being personally introduced to Bloye’s work, as I was a few weeks ago by Neil, certainly helped throw light on this enduring enigma. I was able to join the dots between the work I knew about (Queen Victoria, the Golden Boys) and the curious figures I’d spotted peering down from plaques and elevated positions around the city. Bloye’s work appears across the city as sculptures in public squares, private courtyards, commemorative plaques and foundation stones, decorative panels, architectural embellishments and even bas-relief signs for insurance companies and pubs. Perhaps the sheer range makes it difficult to recognise as the work of one man.
Yet his style, once you start to recognise it, is certainly distinctive. Stylised, streamlined and slightly cartoon-like but with real depth, fluidity and rhythm. The ball of a thumb is carved as richly and as memorably as a face. Some of Bloye’s work is not really in plain sight at all: exquisitely rendered panels in the upper reaches of buildings are at a level noticed only by window cleaners. My feeling is that people used to do a lot more looking around them, and maybe that’s why we don’t see this sort of decoration on buildings anymore.
There’s a joyful moment in recognising a pattern – we’re always looking to make sense of our world. Hidden in Plain Sight not only highlights Bloye’s wonderful sculptures but also provides this sense of having a veil lifted from the world, that we’ve been fortunate to glimpse something valuable that was there all along. Neil leaves plenty more still to be discovered.
The tour runs at 5 30pm on Friday 31st May. Meet at the Golden Boys sculpture on Broad Street, opposite Centenary Square. Tickets are selling well but for the moment can still be bought here.