Grayson's Art Club at Manchester Art Gallery


Or, I could have called this blog post, The Day we were allowed to Hug People Again, because it's Monday 17th May 2021 and that's what's officially happened here in the UK today.  Imagine being able to write that we're allowed to hug just beggars belief....but then so does this whole experience that we are not quite through the other side of yet.

To mark the occasion (but mostly because my lovely friend Denise had got tickets) I was invited along to Manchester Art Gallery to see the work from the TV  show Grayson's Art Club.  My first foray into Manchester City centre in about 18 months and my first venture into a public building in about as long too. Nervous? No! I was wildly excited!

During the first lockdown here in the UK, the artist Grayson Perry invited the public to join him - via his Channel 4 tv show - to make artwork on all sorts of topics. Each week there was a different theme - home, portraits, view out the window, fantasy, etc and the exhibition today was a selection of the work made by real people up and down the country, some of them artists, most of them not, with a few celebrities thrown in for creative good measure.

I thought it was wonderful.  It was an honest, unpretentious look at how people coped during this crazy time. People who hadn't picked up a paintbrush in years suddenly - encouraged by Grayson and folks all around the UK - found themselves taking solace in creativity.  In this exhibition they told us their stories. Who they were, how they felt, how making art had helped them.

It really struck a chord for me, because in my work as an artist, I regularly run projects for an Arts mental health charity here in Manchester, helping vulnerable adults to reconnect through art. In these projects, we explore simple art materials, we aim to enjoy the process of making art, and we try to not be too concerned with achieving an amazing outcome. All the values that I believe underpinned the show today. 

Art, especially in big, public galleries can often seem elitist, but this exhibition is nothing of the sort and and that is what's so refreshing about Grayson and his wife Phillippa - they are nothing of the sort either.  In fact Phillippa made a wonderful bowl in homage to her favourite tv programme A Place in the Sun - it immortalises all the presenters and she imagines they are all her friends!!  I think that is both hilarious and brilliant!

Another standout piece for me, was by an artist called Nathan Wyburn.  He drew a portrait of Grayson.....wait for it......made from noodles and soya sauce!  

Just Brilliant because it so beautifully demonstrates that all you really need is to raid your kitchen cupboards or your house, and employ some imagination and creativity!

It got me casting my mind back to the work I was making during the first lockdown.  I'm not a big tv watcher so I only saw one or two episodes of Grayson's Art Club.  Instead, I was immersed in some colourful collages that were providing their own kind of therapy. 

Here's an example of one of them and I called this piece 'Soul Songs'.  If you want to have a look at the rest, you can find them here on my website. 

Like many of the artists in the exhibition today, I was really absorbed in making these pieces and for me personally, I was delighted to have the extra time to explore, play and concentrate on them.  

This is when art works its magic.....when you get lost somewhere, when you lose track of time, when all you think about is how you'll finish that piece and you're already bursting with ideas for the next one.  That's what I'm looking for anyway and that's my happy place!  I hope I can encourage you to go off and do the same!  And if you need some more inspiration I believe you can still catch Grayson's art club on catch up - More4 I think it's called.  Happy creating!