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Grayson Perry’s Art Club Exhibition: A Review

Grayson Perry’s Art Club Exhibition: A Review

An exhibition of works selected by artist Grayson Perry, known as Grayson’s Art Club, is taking place at the Manchester Art Gallery. Reviewed by Simone Harrison, this article will take you through a captivating tour of the display.

The arts have been something of a holy grail for society these last 18 months. With the pandemic stripping us of many of our social interactions, pastimes and, to an extent, our lives, many have turned to the arts for pleasure and to find release from the perpetual boredom induced by lockdown.

To combat the Nation’s ennui, and to highlight the significance of the arts in our society, actor, broadcaster and artist, Grayson Perry instigated the ‘Grayson’s Art Club’ TV show to inspire our creativity. With nearly ten thousand people reacting to the personality’s weekly themes (such as: ‘Portraits’, ‘The View from my Window’, ‘Britain’ and ‘Home’) through a variety of mediums, Perry along with his wife, Phillipa, created an exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery to showcase some of the best contributions from artists, the public and celebrity guests.

The exhibition logo’s fluorescent green and pink colour pallet certainly paid homage to Perry’s quintessential eccentricity and led me to enter the room with a sense of confusion, animation and zeal.

It quickly became apparent that this sense of exhilaration towards the collection had captured the hearts of, not only aesthetes but a wide range of ages, abilities and backgrounds; with young families, the elderly and even 13-year-old boys present.


Portraits

Grayson Perry by Nathan Wyburn

The first of Perry’s five themes left me with an expectation of intimacy. Given lockdown left us living in the pockets of our family, friends or flatmates, I expected this collection to feature a unique definition of familiarity and closeness which only the pandemic could offer.

Wyburn’s ingenuity by raiding his kitchen essentials spoke as a stark reminder for both our own isolation and how this (literally) feeds our creativity, but also the fundamental nature of lockdown. By forming such beauty from bare cupboard necessities, it provokes the idea of our own primal self-sufficiency – how we as humans do not need consumerist activities but given the opportunity, can unlock our own imagination.

Joe Lycett: Itty Bitty Chris Whitty Committee

Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t the first time the Chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, was featured during the exhibition. With comedian, Joe Lycett’s archetypal absurdity, the haunt of the Nation’s 5 pm nightly conference meetings did evoke laughter in the crowds of viewers, most commenting on how the portrait seemed to capture the ethereal nature of Whitty.


View From My Window

So Near Yet So Far: Clare Wilks

Wilks created this coloured ink drawing whilst recovering from medical treatment during the pandemic. Her health required her to shield from her own sons, who, after moving into a neighbour’s house, hopped over the fence to sit in Wilks’ Garden every afternoon.

Wilk’s calypso palette comments on the restful, rejuvenating period, which was our primary lockdown. As well as this, Wilk’s inky cross-hatch sketchings encapsulate the plight of the shielding, who have arguably felt a greater degree of loneliness and isolation than those fortunate enough to begin returning to ordinary life.


Britain

NHS v COVID: Fighting on Two Fronts – The Singh Twins

The self-proclaimed ‘post-modern’ artists ‘The Singh Twins’ used this walk-in lightbox to reflect the importance of immigrant NHS workers during the pandemic, an essential community that Britain has relied on. A comment on the Government’s refusal to announce free VISA extensions for low-income NHS workers, the twin’s fusion of immigration and medieval English decorative pattern serves as a permanent thanks to those often overlooked in the health sector.


Home

Fag On: Janine Sullivan

As one of the exhibition’s few digital drawings, Sullivan’s piece depicts their neighbours, Cathy and John, on the cusp of celebrating their diamond wedding anniversary, receiving a roast dinner, courtesy of Janine’s stepdaughter, Willow. By creating a sense of warmth through colour, the food and the expression of the couple, Sullivan comments on how the pandemic allowed us to help others, extend our human kindness and compassion, and seek family in places we perhaps hadn’t before.


Fantasy

Upon entering the final area of the exhibition, I was reminded of an article in The Independent, explaining how many people were experiencing vivid dreams during lockdown, due to a lack of stimuli and excess sleep during the day. This, I believed would perhaps inspire the fantastical creations ahead.

I don’t really know now, what I knew then: Leanne Jackson

Created in Photoshop by art teacher, Leanne Jackson, this digital collage depicts the struggles of the education sector during the pandemic. Juggling teaching, home life and her GCSE students, Jackson found herself taking ‘a leap of faith’ and diving from normality, into the depths of creativity to cope.

Employing the treasured symbol of hope, the NHS rainbow, Jackson’s work arguably summarizes the entire collection of works on display: how art offers a place of reflection, contemplation and rest. The monochromatic tubes encourage a hypnotic state to the work, whilst its contrasting rainbow offers a sense of relief.

Admittedly, I struggled to properly absorb the dexterity and imagination which was Robinson’s ‘Computer World’, primarily due to the crowds of children and families gathered around the installation, commenting: “This one’s my favourite”, “No, wait, look how cool he is!”. Robinson, who is on the Autism spectrum, struggled with a lack of routine during the pandemic, leading him to create a collection of clay Marioesque figurines. The variation of colour, intricate details and personalities on display has been praised by curators and the public alike, undoubtedly a key factor in his decision to begin selling the figures via his Instagram page. 

Alex Robinson’s figures via her older sister’s Twitter account

Reflecting on my visit, I feel the collection encapsulates a feeling of the human spirit. ‘Grayson’s Art Club’ was a time capsule, allowing one to take a glimpse back into 2020, not for its atrocities or heartache, but its creativity. By paying homage to the work of the ordinary person (furthermore displaying them in a prestigious gallery), allowed us to return to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, where imagination, creativity, the NHS, identity, dreams and hope became paramount to our survival. In an ordinary world, these pieces would never be displayed in a gallery (nay, even created), however this unique opportunity, and the privilege I had to visit, will unquestionably become a permanent reminder of the year that was 2020.



Written by Simone Harrison | Illustrated by Victoria Hoover

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