Pogus Caesar's career, encompassing pointillism, photography and film, thus far, needs no introduction from the likes of me. His work has taken him to the great corners of the earth, and home again to Moseley, Birmingham, in the UK.
In Moseley, he has established his OOM Gallery. The current featured exhibition at OOM is entitled 'From Jamaica Row - Rebirth of The Bullring', and is on display until the 28th March 2006. From Jamaica Row documents the redevelopment of the Bullring area of Birmingham from June 2000 - Sept 2003. The Bullring is I guess, remembered less well for its origins of the 1700s or the bombing of the 1970s, than for the wide reputation it earned as an failed architectural experiment. How not to do things. Easy for me to say, huh? My memories are limited to coming out of Moor Street Station and heading under through the subway to Reddington's Rare Records. Anyway, enough about Brum and more of Pogus on Pogus. And because we can, we're going way back to begin with, to his childhood recollections of the Caribbean.
"I have many memories of St. Kitts," Pogus begins, "It was, and still is a magical place. I remember a great sense of family and fun and getting into a lot of childlike trouble, picking peoples mangoes and throwing kids stones at each other... or just sitting around listening to the older folk talk about Jumbies (small mystical creatures) who if you were bad would take you away into the mountains, never to be seen again."
While he was still a child, his family moved to the UK. I ask him why they had chosen Birmingham, in particular? "Why choose Birmingham?" He ponders... "As you know, many West Indians were encouraged to come to the mother country and work in order to get a better life. We also had family here, so we settled in Sparkbrook and lived in one room, shared the outside toilet and bathroom with about 6 other families. We had to take turns if we wanted to cook in the kitchen, so many a dinner was cooked on old paraffin heaters in the one room, but we were happy. My mother worked in the local hospital and my Dad on the railways (sometimes night shift) so I'd have to cook the food for my brother and sister as well as making sure their clothes were ironed and shoes polished (although we had little we always looked good!)."
There are plenty of distractions for a kid growing up in the city, but art was his first love. When he was a child, he says, he was always drawing and scribbling as he puts it, on anything he find.
He'd thought he'd like to work in advertising, "Because it sounded cool..." he says. But the moment he realized he wanted to become a painter was when he saw a documentary about the French Pointillist artist Seurat, (painting pictures with tiny little dots)... "Totally awesome, the work just blew me away... So it was from that moment on I just knew that I should travel down the creative road. But for me," he reflects, "inspiration comes from all manner of influences."
Pogus was first recognized as a photographer. His first major show was at the National Museum of Film & Photography in Bradford in 1986. A couple of years before that he had spent time in New York photographing in and around Queens, Harlem and The Bronx etc, "Just me and my little Instamatic 110 camera. The resulting show 'Instamatic Views of New York' went down very well and also exhibited at Herbert Art Gallery in Coventry."
He continues to travel a lot... "I like the availability of just jumping on a plane for work or pleasure and in a couple of hours there is a great destination you've never been before. I like Spain a lot, around Seville, Granada and Cordoba, USA, India and South America were great experiences..." But continues to find Birmingham, for now, at the true center of his universe, "As for residing somewhere, I've not found the perfect heaven yet... but I know it's there."
More recently Pogus has established the OOM gallery, in Moseley. "It was established as a vehicle that could reach out to people all around the world." He says of the gallery, "Although it promotes my work, we engage with a wide range of people and organisations in order to develop culturally diverse projects including external exhibitions, conferences, film productions. OOM Gallery is an online facility which is free access and open 24 hrs, 7 days per week. Our long term aim is to open a physical gallery in the heart of Birmingham, for 6 months of the year it will exhibit my work, for the remaining 6 months we'll be able to promote the work of creative for around the world. Over the years I and others have invested heavily in the cultural framework of the city, it would be a shame to stop now."
The gallery has offered up not only great, but greatly diverse work, I wondered how they chose or decided who/how/what to exhibit...
"OOM's exhibitions come about through a natural process, there are discussions with a small team of people who support the aims and objectives of OOM Gallery. Exhibitions are very diverse and we are able to respond to issues within the current climate. Past exhibitions have included MACHINE ENVY, a study of at modern man's obsession with the motor car, MUZIK KINDA SWEET was a collection of photographs of black music legends, people I'd photographed over the years including Stevie Wonder and Lee 'Scratch' Perry. With TWENTY SUMMERS On- HANDSWORTH RIOTS, it was a collection of images taken throughout the devastation of the 1985 Handsworth riots, so as you can see there a range of subjects on OOM Gallery including photomontages, fashion and film. As for the future there are some exciting projects on the boil including a book called MUZIK KINDA SWEET. "
The current exhibition is 'From Jamaica Row - Rebirth of the Bullring'. Pogus says, proved to be a formidable challenge. "In order to get the images I wanted, there was much befriending of security guards, workmen and hanging off dangerous locations, but 3 years later it was worth it. I feel that the photos of which there are several hundred in the OOM Gallery Archive will be a great resource for anyone researching the rebuilding of the new Bullring. It is a great rebirth as the old Bullring was tired and crumbling, the new one stands proud and is now well established as a great landmark within our city."
In part two of our interview next week. Pogus talks about his film work, meeting, Aaliyah, the changes in Birmingham, architecturally and culturally... and offers a unique perspective on the forthcoming cricket world cup...Read Part 2 of the Pogus Interview
Main Image New York, A Great Day Out, (2003) and Pogus Caesar Portrait ¬© Pogus Caesar / OOM Gallery Archive
OOM Gallery Online: OOM Gallery