Grayson Perry’s Art Club: Exhibition review

Obviously this year there has been a lack of big-hitting exhibition launches, which has been a massive shame. But, back in April in the beginning stages of lockdown, renowned artist Grayson Perry created a TV programme on Channel 4 named ‘Grayson’s Art Club’. Here, he invited the general public, alongside his celebrity friends and fellow artists to create artwork whilst in lockdown. Each weekly episode explored different themes, from Portraits, to Britain, to Fantasy and more. We watched Grayson create work too, whilst he viewed all those submitted, we watched him chat with guests (via Zoom of course) and throughout the series he selected work to feature in an exhibition – an exhibition which is now right here in Manchester!

Manchester Art Gallery are the hosts of ‘Grayson’s Art Club’, an exhibition which is full of some amazing work, talented artists and famous names. There’s a huge mix of paintings, photography and sculptures. What gets me, is that there’s work from ‘non-artists’ from Joe Bloggs down the street, sat next to work by Grayson himself, or by other famous names like Harry Hill and Kevin McCloud. Imagine, your work in the same room, hung on the same wall as Sir Anthony Gormley! Mind = blown.

I was lucky enough to attend a private view for press (limited numbers of course) and see this amazing show. As I type this review, Manchester Art Gallery has not been given permission to re-open as Manchester enters Tier 3 rules. Manchester Art Gallery director, Alistair Hudson, has put together a great document explaining why the decision to keep galleries closed is a ridiculous one! I won’t go into this now, but it does seem utterly silly that you can go into Primark any time of the day, but not a spacious art gallery at a set time where numbers can be limited…. anyway (eye roll). This does mean I feel kind of guilty typing this and telling you about the exhibition that you may not yet be able to visit. Hopefully, in the not to distance future, that will change and this review will help you get excited for what is to come.

Back to the exhibition review then. There are different sections to the exhibition, each section reflects a theme of an episode. You first enter into ‘Portraits’. There is one face that seems to take over this section, Chris Witty – bless his little heart. He did somehow become the face of coronavirus, which isn’t a title anyone wants! His face became a common household image, with the daily updates and TV advert broadcasts reminding us to wash our hands. TV presenter Joe Lycett, who featured on Grayson’s Art Club, painted a portrait of Chris Witty, and this now lies here at Manchester Art Gallery. Joe’s humour oozes from the painting, with him signing this off as Hugo Boss (he changed his name by deed poll, find out why on BBC news). The statement plaque next to the painting is also hilarious. When asked to list what materials/mediums were used in the artwork, he listed things such as, ‘A Kitten’s first memory’, ‘Goat’s milk, Ghost’s milk’ and about 10 Alan Sugar’s were included too.

I was shown around the exhibition by one of the Senior Curators, Natasha Howes. I loved her introduction as she says; ‘I hope this encourages visitors to get creative, to see that they don’t need all the materials at home, that you can make work with what you have.’ There are examples of this from people creating work with food (Nathan Wyburn), creating sculptures using Barbie and all her accessories (Anita Kapila) or painting on cardboard like comedian and presenter himself Noel Fielding. Natasha says the exhibition is equally about the quality of art, as it is about the people’s stories too, and what inspired them to make the work.

The next section I explored was ‘Animals’ and it is here you can see more of Grayson’s work (you will find his pieces, and his wife’s Philippa’s work throughout the exhibition). One of Grayson’s pieces you watched him create throughout the TV series, is named ‘Protective Spirit Alan’. This surreal sculpture, inspired by Grayson’s childhood teddy bear, is made up of metal pieces, nails, bolts and rocks and cement. It’s an angry looking sculpture, but Alan is a running metaphor in Grayson’s work, so you feel like you know him, like you recognise him in a way.

In the section named ‘View from my Window’ I found that the every day artists work really stood out. Being in lockdown has meant that our windows have become more relevant, seeing the world outside from the safety of the inside. Emma Major’s work is a page from her sketchbook. Emma is registered blind, with a ‘small blurry tunnel of sight in one eye’ and so her view is obviously completely different. Sight, and most of our senses for that matter, we take for granted, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’ type of thing. Emma’s sketch is of what she can see thought this slight vision, a sketch of shades and shapes and notes to coincide with her work. It’s a powerful piece and one that truly does make you reflect on yourself and your view.

I wouldn’t have thought it, but ‘Fantasy’ was one of my favourite sections of the exhibition. As you walk in, you can instantly recognise Noel Fielding’s work. He has such a unique style – both in his art and his overall being for that matter! He painted famous faces on cardboard, people he could talk to and ‘party’ with in his garden during lockdown. Another famous artist on display in ‘Fantasy’ is Sir Anthony Gormley. He too, along with the other celebs and professional artists, featured on the ‘Grayson’s Art Club.’ His work, even in lockdown, is inspired by nature. His piece named ‘Field’ uses crude oil, he says; ‘I wanted to use a material that is the blood of the earth: that would somehow carry the feeling of geology, time and substance.’ With this piece, I’d recommend looking twice, as you don’t necessarily see it all in first glance!

Grayson’s TV programme was all about getting people involved and making art at home. Following on from this, Manchester Art Gallery will be launching their very own #MAGartclub, ‘encouraging people from Manchester and beyond to make art with a Mancunian twist.’ Each month they will have a new theme, December’s being ‘Manchester’. They want people to make work, of any kind, and upload it to Instagram using the above hashtag. Within ‘Grayson’s Art Club’ exhibition there will be a screen showing all your entries on a reel. So get creating!

This exhibition really is a big deal for Manchester, just with the famous artists alone this would have been an exhibition to promote. The fact that normal folk’s work is included to, and has the chance to share the same platform with artists and celebrities, it really does encompass that idea that art is for everyone, and can be made by anyone! So many artists within this exhibition were told they couldn’t paint/draw etc, or that they’d never make it, and now look! What is great, is that you can’t always tell the difference between the non-artists and the professionals! That is not to demean the professionals at all. Just to say that art is subjective, and everyone has talent, they just need that chance to do it and show it!

As I mentioned earlier, on writing this, Manchester Art Gallery is closed to the public, but make sure you keep an eye on their website and the ‘Grayson’s Art Club’ page for updates. There is also the TV series you can catch up on on Channel 4, including an Exhibition launch episode. I truly hope the gallery opens soon, and we will of course update you with news. The exhibition will be sticking around for a while so you will get an opportunity to see it – and you must! It’s a real good’n.

Follow the link to send in your artwork to be featured in ‘Grayson’s Art Club: Series 2’.

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