One of my first ambitions, apart from having Jim fix it for me (I’m okay with this not having worked out), was to get something I’d drawn on to Tony Hart’s ‘Gallery’. In each episode of Hartbeat Tony Hart would give art lessons to eager young artists. He’d show you how to use stencils, how to draw water and how to use all sorts of materials to make pictures. Each programme would also feature a section called ‘The Gallery’ where Hart would choose pieces viewers had sent in. These would be shown one after another and occasionally Hart would pause on one and explain why he liked it, saying things like ‘the more you look at it the more delicate you see it is’. That was the dream.
Unfortunately, Tony Hart is no longer with us. So he won’t be able to reboot Hartbeat and join Joe Wicks, Carol Vorderman, Jamie Oliver and all the other celebrities who have taken on remote teaching jobs during lockdown. Instead, Grayson Perry has stepped in as the nation’s art teacher with his new show Grayson’s Art Club (Neil Buchanan of Art Attack seems to be more focused on his heavy metal band). Art Club started with a first episode focused on portraiture, with the next programme devoted to animals.
Whereas Hartbeat would typically teach you a technique for drawing a portrait, Grayson’s Art Club is closer to what my art foundation course was like. It’s less about teaching a technique – ‘It’s not about getting a likeness,’ Grayson explains – and more about providing some vague encouragement and letting you know that there aren’t really any wrong ways to do things. ‘Don’t start at the important bit’ is, however, one message Grayson wants to be sure the nation takes on board when making portraits.
The making of Grayson’s own portrait of his wife Philippa is what holds the first episode together. He starts off with a bit of sketching and ends by painting Philippa on to a yellow plate. There’s more introspection offered on the psychology of making a portrait than the process of creating the portrait itself though: ‘‘You have two relationships, the one you have in your head with me, and the one you have with me [in reality]’ Philippa offers while Grayson is painting her on to the plate.
Throughout the show Grayson is joined (remotely, obviously) by a few friends, comedians Joe Lycett and Leigh Francis and the artists Chantal Joffe and Nathan Wyburn, who each present their own portraits. Wyburn, clearly a student of Neil Buchanan, shows a portrait of Grayson, with soy sauce and noodles representing his hair. Lycett shows the head of the UK’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, floating against a blue backdrop bearing the words ‘Wash your filthy pig hands’. Both of them seem to have thoroughly enjoyed making their pictures.
Grayson scrolls through the public’s submissions on the theme of portraiture on his tablet, before choosing three he likes best. One in particular, a picture of the drag queen Aquaria by Miranda Noszkiewicz, he selects as the absolute best. We’ll never know if that’s the one Tony Hart would have chosen. Afterwards, Miranda is interviewed by Grayson. She sits beaming, surrounded by her other portraits of drag queens. It’s a reminder that art can be good therapy, and definitely a bit of fun if you’re sitting at home with nothing else to do.
To watch Episode 1 of Grayson Perry’s Art Club visit the Channel 4 website.