MEET THE ARTIST! A Q&A WITH MILAN TOPALOVIĆ
Name: Milan Topalović
Occupation: Illustrator / Artist Tutor
Hi Milan, can you tell us about your involvement in The Big Sleuth?
My involvement began last November when I illustrated the schools resource pack for the Learning Programme, The Little Bears Detective Club!
I then created one of the bears – Mary Beary’s Soggy Bottom #97 which is sponsored by Resorts World and then as a sidekick to her I painted Frankie the Cheeky Bear! Following workshops and school visits, I also produced two bear cubs for the learning trail with St Francis and Yew Tree Primary Schools in Birmingham.
Most recently, I have just completed a window display for the official Big Sleuth Outlet in the Great Western Arcade. I am very proud of the finished design and I hope visitors come and see the display and outlet during their trail!
Why did you want to get involved in the project?
I was involved in The Big Hoot in 2015, which was my first Wild in Art project, I designed an owl titled ‘Owl Aboard!’ which was housed at New Street Station during the re-development into Grand Central station. I worked on another giant owl as part of a community project in Sheldon and also illustrated the official Big Hoot Trail Map which was a great brief to work on!
Unlike all my other illustration and art projects, working with Wild in Art is always a special journey because of the relationship and commitment to Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity.
The Big Sleuth is a great opportunity for young and established artists to become involved with a public art trail and is a fantastic platform for creatives to showcase their work in prime Birmingham locations for three months.
Do you have any connection to Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity?
Probably half a dozen times growing up I relied on Birmingham Children’s Hospital at all times of day and night. I never imagined that 18 years later I would be in a position to give something back. It is fantastic to be part of such a massive and worthwhile initiative, I am very proud of the project and being part of the team pulling it all together.
What inspired your designs?
I started playing with ideas last summer just as The Great British Bake Off was reaching its finale. After minutes of deliberation it was either Paw Hollywood or Mary Beary, and there could only be one winner…
I designed two bear cubs around the values of the respective schools – St Francis’ love for protecting nature, and a school nestled in a whimsical Yew Tree representing community.
The window display was inspired by the theme of the bears’ migrating across the lands for summer to a city with the most trees in Europe, acting as a second habitat for the sun bear. The display celebrates adventure, exploration and of course, sleuthing.
How do you feel you are helping to make a difference to the hospital?
Producing the best piece of work that I can and capturing imaginations of thousands of visitors is my priority for a project like this. If the same engagement and warmth is present on the night of the auction, I will be proud to have done my part in amassing something very special for Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
I also teach children’s art courses at mac Birmingham which gives me the platform to inspiring children of the art’s potential as a way of helping people. Sometimes I meet children who have recently finished a long stay in hospital which puts into context the gravity of the projects I am blessed to work on.
Can you tell us something no one would know about your bears?
Mary Beary’s Soggy Bottom took approximately 100 hours to complete, I am a bit of a perfectionist! When it came to designing the window display I included a little bakery where Mary could bake cakes all day, see if you can find it!
As for sun bear facts, I found out that the Malay for sun bear is “he who likes to sit high”, in the window display you will see them sat in trees overlooking their new habitat, as they would do in the rain forests of south-east Asia.
How many Wild in Art projects have you been involved in?
The Big Sleuth is the fourth Wild in Art project I have worked in the last two years, producing six sculptures in total. In addition to The Big Sleuth, I have worked on The Big Hoot, Meadowhall Hearts and The Big Read. It has been such a pleasure to contribute on these projects which – including The Big Sleuth – will have raised over £1 million for charities.
Have you taken on the trail yet?
This week I spent the afternoon visiting about twenty in Birmingham and saw university students taking graduation selfies with the bears! My next stop will be to see how Mary Beary is getting on at Resorts World! It is a unique perspective being part of the timeline leading up to the launch of the trail as that is the tip of the iceberg, all of the long hours are done in secrecy and it is so rewarding to see the flood of family selfies on social media. With so many visitors photographing and posting their trail journeys online they are all contributing to promoting a project that is for such a worthwhile cause.
Tell us a bear joke
I’m trying to think of a really good bear joke to finish the interview on a high, which explains the big paws…
Bearilliant or clawful?