Grayson's Art Club review – a heartening, lockdown-era tonic

Celebrity guests and talented members of public get creative as the hit series returns, with the irrepressible artist beautifully guiding us through their stories

Being irrepressible without making people want to kill you is a rare and valuable life skill, even under normal conditions. Under lockdown, it makes you a pearl beyond price. So praise the Lord and pass the clay and canvas that Channel 4 have found enough in the coffers to commission Grayson Perry for another series of Grayson’s Art Club. It essentially plays as a pandemic version of Take Hart, and has as much of a tonic effect as the name suggests.

Grayson (and his psychotherapist wife Philippa, no art slouch herself) create work responding to a different theme each week and a larger one over the course of the series. Celebrity guests contribute – mostly via online interviews – and the public in send their own submissions. Grayson interviews the creators of some of his favourite ones and puts them up in his equivalent of Hart’s gallery – an exhibition in Manchester. Or he will do, once Covid allows.

This week’s theme was family. “Who we miss, who we’re shaped by, who we truly belong with are all questions art can help us explore,” said Grayson, and I realised that I would not reach the end of this hour without tears.

Boy George contributed paintings, full of life and colour and sequins, of his “disco family” – the like-minded souls he met when he left home (“I’d never eaten prawns, or courgettes or left the country – think I went to Birmingham once”) and found himself, literally and metaphorically, in London. British-Nigerian artist Yinka Ilori showed us round his work and described the power of shared colours and patterns worn by different families to unite and empower them. And Anneka Rice revealed an extraordinary amount of artistic talent with a frieze full of vibrant, busy, somehow clearly beloved figures weaving in and out of bunting (“All my life, I’ve created these tribes of people who I love”), accompanied by an equally extraordinary account of her family. “The word is so loaded for me … My parents were very secretive about their backgrounds – it just left me with such a sense of yearning.” She knew they had siblings but was never allowed to meet them. The closest she ever got to knowing anything about them was a moment as a child, helping to wash up, when her mother suddenly said: “My mother died yesterday.” The rest was silence. Though the sound you hear now is that of the nation’s entirety of researchers and documentary makers scrambling for the phone. For the avoidance of doubt – I would consider her Who Do You Think You Are? appointment TV.

A visit to David Bailey’s studio (he’s been vaccinated, Grayson had been tested, other safety measures were in place) was less revealing, except to confirm that the old goat is still viewing women through one particular mental lens and – when the portrait he took of Grayson was revealed – that he can still capture a likeness like no one else.

The great strength of Grayson’s Art Club, however, is that it doesn’t allow the celeb bits to squeeze out or overwhelm the contributions from the public. The astounding degree and amount of talent out there is given its due, and Grayson’s interviewing and listening skills – always alert, always interested, never imposing – draw out the stories behind every work. “We’re constructing a family as we construct an artwork about it,” notes Grayson, as people describe the relatives in their pictures, embroidery and collages they hadn’t seen in the flesh for months. By the end of Chloe Hanchen-Garner’s account of her work memorialising her father, who died in November, most viewers were surely in floods of cathartic tears for all we have lost. Such is the power of art, and narrative. Take heart.


Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

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