At The Bench 504, owner Rob’s pursuit of quality graffiti, and the experience of travelling to paint, has led him to create a thriving business providing an exhibition space for a varied range of illustrators. It’s also enabled him to be involved in a range of projects, as well as protecting local graffiti spaces and introducing youngsters to the skill.
Now based in a Custard Factory Unit, Rob saw a gap in the market and put his savings into opening his own shop selling paints. Progressing from a few years based at a shared shop in Quinton, The Bench 504 now sits overlooking the pond at the Custard Factory, and has a colourful floor to ceiling selection of thousands of paints, which sell Europe-wide from the Birmingham location.
Graffiti artists take time to plan, practicing and sketching, often taking a sketch to the wall. Colour counts as part of the preparation. Getting good takes a lot of practice.
There are a steady stream of customers, as well as those coming to look at the latest exhibition. A customer arrives asking Rob for an order simply by naming the colour – “I have learnt all the fruits in German and Spanish” Rob laughs, going on to explain that the main brands come from around Europe, and the range he stocks now includes seven brands as the demand grows. The paints stocked at The Bench 504 are highly specialised, some are even artisan – including Spanish brand MTM (Montana) being run by artists who couldn’t get the quality they wanted, so started mixing their own.
The exhibition space in the shop features a different illustrator every four weeks. Until Wednesday 23rd April the exhibition is ‘Off the Rails’ by mixed media artist Lucy Danielle, a Birmingham-based freelance illustrator who studied at Birmingham City University.
Rob was also involved in the future of quality graffiti, ensuring it could continue in the local area. There was a park, Bournbrook Rec, in Selly Oak from the 1980s which councillors were happy to have as a legal space for artists, until mid 2000s when that changed. The local graffiti community gathered a focussed campaign and turned around the council’s opinion of the art, and of the artists, to overturn the decision and re-open the park.
The park is now back in full and frequent use with a high quality of work. The artists know what they can or can’t paint over, as the unwritten rules and etiquette of sharing the graffiti space are self regulated, ensuring they have somewhere to develop the skills and talent to create impressive work.
Rob’s enthusiasm for the art continues, and when the sun is shining the paints fly off the shelves.
Photographs by the author, Kate Wilkins.