Issue 342
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THE MAN BEHIND THE MASKS

I’m not having a panic attack, per se, but I’m constantly reminding myself where the exit is. I can’t see it for the piles and piles of ‘tat’, but I know roughly where the door is. Don’t get me wrong, Brummie artist ‘Well’ is a lovely man, but his workspace is the stuff of nightmares, both in the projects it houses and the total lack of any level of organisation. I’m not a particularly meticulous man, but the chaos is overwhelming.
It takes a while to get to the crux of what Well (pictured, right) does for a living, but here’s what I worked out. He studied Fine Art at university but soon felt it was quite restrictive. Too serious. Well, clearly, gets more creative comfort from the absurd. He shares his studio with the crown prince of Birmingham paste-ups, Foka Wolf, and Imbue — the man who, among many things, made this 'chocolate' AK47. Well’s work is more innocent than theirs. Less politicised, more nostalgic. Perfectly potty — lovely, almost — as long as your trip down memory lane doesn’t turn the wrong corner. And, trust me, it can at any minute.
He lists Vic & Bob, Neil Buchanan, Limmy and sculptor Wilfred Wood as inspirations. Most days — if they’re open — he visits a second hand shop. He’ll buy endless amounts of tat then repurpose it as weird and wild works of art. He plays with papier-mâché, clay, felt tips pens and video. His Instagram account is a treasure chest of “bad green screen adverts” (his words not mine) for the products he produces, as well as one-off skits, ‘how to’ demonstrations and at least one compendium of his all time favourite foreheads. Well even saved Kings Heath from a robot attack while necking Carling with Joe Lycett. He calls it Tat Vision and one day he'd like it to be a TV show. Before that he wants a stage show. He's done a handful of live gigs already, but the one moment he doesn’t have a smile on his face throughout my 90 minute stay is when he explains how COVID put the kibosh on what could have been a big break at The Glee Club — a sort stand-up meets panto meets game show thing. “First it was meant to be April, then it was put back to November. But it will happen.”
I feel glum for him but it’s hard to keep a straight face. Well’s perched next to Dominic Cummings as he talks. Not the actual guy, you understand (you’re not allowed to travel between tiers so that would be technically illegal) but a manikin with a big Cummings papier-mâché head atop. It was a commission from another Brum artist, Coldwar Steve, and it featured in a SKY ARTS documentary only last week — you can find that on catch up. Behind Well there are more heads. Piles of them. Steve Buscemi, Trump, Steve Jobs, Michael Douglas in Falling Down. Ant & Dec are immortalised by Well, joined traumatically together by the head. “They’re joined together by the hip in real life,” he explains. “But by the head in my world.” I think that’s what he said but he was wearing the damn thing, so I’m not sure. I choose not to ask why Ant’s body is provided by a baby doll. That way trouble lies.
It's very easy to warm to Well. Tough to interview, because his zeal for life moves too quickly for my brain — follow-up questions went out of the window within minutes. He has an infectious grin and dresses almost exclusively in second hand gear. “I like women’s clothes more, because they have prettier patterns,” he says pulling a little at his truly revolting leopard print shirt.
He has an ongoing project I'd like to tell you about called Wealthy White Wrestlers. Remember in the 80s and 90s (and probably still now) when wrestlers had action figures? Well, Well’s been making figures himself, but these are of famous global billionaires, handmade into wrestlers complete with wrestling ‘pun’ name. He shows me Amazon’s Jeff “Bruizos” (left) and finds Facebook’s Mark “Zuckerpunch” under a pile of VHS videos, one of which — if you’re asking — is Meet Joe Black. On the whiteboard in the corner next to an illustration of Pat Butcher, I notice that “Rowdy” Rupert Murdoch and Richard "Branslam” are on his to do list.
Presently, Well’s holding a fencing sword in one hand and he’s poking a certificate at me with the other. He’s nodding with that grin, awaiting my approval that he gained Grade One in fencing back in 2003 — he will have been 15 — before hanging up his foil soon after. I scan the certificate and realise Well’s real name is William Douglas. I ask him what he’d prefer me to call him, but he hasn’t heard and now he’s holding a bag of teeth. It says ‘TEETH’ in big letters on it and this, I guarantee, is the only moment of any sort of order or labelling in his lawless workspace. A complete waste of time, of course, because the bag is see-through. I run my hands through the teeth and and they chink and chatter together. He assures me they’re dentures, not real teeth. I didn’t think they were real, until now, and I remind myself briefly where that door is.
I ask how I can buy his work. I suspect a Dominic Cummings head that he spent three full days making and even longer drying might be out of my budget, so he tells me he does “smaller shrunken heads, like voodoo style”. There's a Buzz Lightyear meets Total Recall one kicking around in a far corner, but you can have yourself made for £40 if that's your thing. The heads, be they life-size or handheld unnerve me far too much so we agree I’ll buy some Tat Ooze instead. Tat Ooze is like Well’s version of Kinder Surprise but you’ll find, say, an Action Man’s head in a pot of slime. It costs £10 and he throws in a few teeth.
If you’re looking for something Christmassy, he'll do you a festive bauble with your face clayed to the outside for £30 — he's done himself, look! And if you're free today, tomorrow or Saturday — and let's face it, you are — he's selling his stuff and doing bespoke 15-minute felt-tip pen portraits at the old Kingsway cinema, Kings Heath, as part of an arts, craft and food Christmas market. 
As I leave — by now keen to get to that beautifully boring corridor — I ask him about one of his drawings on the way out. He points at it and says “That? That's old Ted Danson. And that there," moving his hand. "that’s new Ted Danson.” I pause for a minute wondering what he means. “YOUNG!" he yelps. "Young Ted Danson. Not new. What the hell is a new Ted Danson?! Ahh please don’t publish that…”
SLINGING SAUSAGE
 
Digbeth Dining Club are good people, and I don't just mean those that run the company. Combined with bags of help from brilliant Brum street food traders they've donated 6000 meals for disadvantaged kids in a little over a month! DDC are bowing out of 2020 with one final Click & Collect event and, although they've not revealed who's going to be making appearances during the December 11 to 20 Hockley ten-dayer, I've hacked their phones and found out. Beef on the Block, Flying Cows, Strip Club, Kodawari, Kebab Cartel, Libertine Burger, Disco Fries, Fat Snags and Street Souvlaki will be appearing at various points, with rotas and menus being announced by DDC today. And if you're still looking for your Christmas Market bratwurst fill, Get Wurst will be travelling from Sheffield to sling German sausage. When bookings are live visit digbethdiningclub.com/orders, make your selection and book a time slot to collect from Hampton Street.  
EMPOWERING BABS 
 
Speaking of good people, have you heard of Brum voluntary collective Feminists Work For Change? Each year they choose a charity to raise funds for and this year they've kept it local and are championing West Mids-based Boabab Women's Project who do many ace things, including giving assistance to women on immigration, health, financial and housing issues. In February 2020 (so only about 6 weeks ago, right?) FWFC put out an open call for artwork responding to the word EMPOWER, the plan being to sell the art to raise dosh. Joyful, moving and thoughtful paintings, drawings, paper cuts, printmaking, embroidery, cross-stitch, collage and poetry came in from all over, including this brilliant fist bump 'EMPOWER BAB' brooch (see what they've done there?) made by Kings Heathian Katy Sadler. It's a total snip at just £5 and all the artworks the team received are available in their online shop until December 13. Follow FWFC on Instagram, here
Great Western Arcade god-send Anderson & Hill has put its online store live, and it includes Christmassy hampery thingummies. Free delivery within three miles of the store for orders above £30 if you use the code 'BIRMINGHAM'.

You have until 10pm today (Dec 3) to buy Brum pop-up kitchen Blow Water's long sleeve tee collab with Provide. It pays tribute to the situation in Hong Kong.  🇭🇰🤝🇬🇧 £27.99  
Fat Snags will be dogging hotness at The Meat Shack Saturday December 5 (1pm to 8pm) in a Click and Collect manner, alongside The Shack's regular menu of burgerage.
A-happenin' December 16 on Ikon Gallery’s YouTube account is year zero — an audiovisual artwork by British artist Haroon Mirza. Made during lockdown, it's inspired by the widely circulated phone footage of Italians singing from their balconies. More

Birmz ceramics and print artist Sara Silverwood has, in the last half hour, launched her first online Christmas shop. Dunno how Christmassy it is but this handmade 'dirty' soap dish has plenty of chutzpah and this Tony Soprano shirt print scores a ten. 

The CBSO has released the first of a series of digital concerts. Centenary of the First Concert features the awesome Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and is available to view until December 18, here

I don't like ice cream (I know, I know!) but even I had to acknowledge that Odi & Moo's Brum-made Toast & Honey flavour was divine. They're doing collections from Stirchley's Caneat tomorrow (Dec 4). Nearly went the whole issue without mentioning Stirchley.  


"The irony of life is that those who wear masks often tell us more truths than those with open faces."


Marie Lu, The Rose Society 



 
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WORDS: Tom Cullen

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