The easel had been lying forlornly behind my wardrobe and was becoming an eyesore – a constant, nagging reminder of a passion, at one time central to my existence, which had gradually been eclipsed by other commitments, responsibilities, and distractions. With lockdown, many of these distractions had dried up, and finally, there was a chance to dust off the easel, climb back into my overalls and unearth my paintbrushes from the backs of cupboards and drawers around the house. Grayson’s Art Club seemed the perfect opener to encourage those first tentative steps back into the world of creativity.
At first, I was slightly disappointed. After watching Life Drawing Live on the BBC, I was expecting a similar format, with viewers drawing along at home while the presenters provided pointers and feedback. With this in mind, I had settled down to watch Grayson’s Art Club with pencil poised, ready to unleash creative hell on page 1 of my sketchbook. It was not to be – this is not a show intended for drawing along. However, Grayson’s captivating charm offensive quickly broke down this initial disappointment. Through his relaxed, likable persona and great sense of humour, I soon put down my drawing equipment and forgot my unsated creative desire.
The show follows Grayson and his partner, Phillipa, around the studio as they go about their daily lives in lockdown. They are joined in conversation by famous artists including Anthony Gormley and Maggi Hambling, who talk the listener through their artistic practice via all too familiar, lag-filled video calls. Later on, self-confessed art-loving celebrities document their own creative endeavours in home footage, each resembling an overexcited (but underskilled) Bob Ross: enthusiastic but lacking finesse. However, this did not make it any less enjoyable. These entertaining sequences reassure the viewer that you do not have to be Da Vinci to enjoy and benefit from creativity.
Grayson does a great job of promoting inclusion throughout. As part of the show, members of the public are invited to send in their artwork and Grayson selects work to be put into a post-lockdown exhibition. He clearly based his choices not just on ability (although this is often present), but on originality too, challenging what is conventionally regarded as ‘good art’. Successful contributors are invited to video calls with Grayson, and here he shows himself to be a great listener, putting his counterparts at ease. Despite sometimes moving personal backstories, X-factoresque sensationalism is avoided through Grayson’s personable and understated approach. He also seems to recognise the importance of this opportunity to ‘amateur artists’ and approaches these conversations with modesty, empathy and kindness.
Throughout the show, it is impossible not to grow affectionate towards Grayson and Philippa. Isolated together, they bounce off one another in amusing, banal and extremely relatable ways. They appear inseparable and I enjoyed this insight into their lives as they entertained themselves with anecdotes, artistic ideas and constant wisecracks. Their relationship is a real asset to the show, providing a sentimental backdrop to this masterpiece of easy yet fulfilling watching.
As the jaunty theme tune signalled the end of this three-part series, my easel remained resolute in its place behind the wardrobe. Despite Grayson’s admirable attempts, life had once again got in the way and my desire to unearth an inner Picasso was again extinguished.
Although, my progress as a painter had coughed and spluttered in a resounding false start, I did find alternative inspiration from an unlikely source – Harry Hill. His contribution to Art Club was a carved wooden Labrador. Under his instruction, I set about hacking and sawing with vicious intent. Day after day, I would prise myself from the essay grindstone and slink off to the shed, and I would let the log have it… The physicality of the process was a refreshing break from the tightness and constriction of delicate pencil drawings and made a change from the immobility of deskwork. The outcome of this investigation is far from certain. Slowly a contorted figure has emerged from the block of wood, exposed ever more as each chisel strike removes a further layer of wood. It is never going to be a masterpiece, but the meditative process has provided an escape from the stresses and pressures of life.
This is the key to Grayson’s Art Club: it provides a relaxed environment where experimentation and playfulness are essential. Grayson and Phillipa appear to live the life of Riley in their studio lockdown. We may not all be professional artists or craftspeople, but we can all create a little bit of this in our own lives by engaging in creative processes in our own little ways.