Culture Writer Ella Burns praises Grayson’s Art Club exhibition at Bristol Museum & Gallery as ‘a poignant artistic record of COVID-19 and its effects’ and a reminder of the power of art to bring people together
Following the second series of the successful Channel 4 series Grayson’s Art Club, in which Grayson and Phillipa Perry discuss art created by the public, established artists, and a collection of celebrities to cope with Covid-19, an exhibition showcasing artworks from the series has been created.
Currently at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery until the 4th of September 2022, the exhibition is an emotional journey through the many challenges faced over the pandemic and features artworks which tackle everything from lockdown and the lives of key workers, to family and everyday life.
The Grayson’s Art Club exhibition spans three floors, and visitors take a journey around different areas, following a trail of art from room to room. These rooms follow the themes of the series: family, nature, food, dreams, work, and travel, capturing the emotions and experiences of the pandemic in a raw, personal way.
Although the exhibition is powerful and moving in itself, for me, the connection with the show is where it really comes to life. In the TV programme, we meet each person and learn the story behind their artwork, forging a deeper emotional connection with each artwork in the exhibition. These stories were reignited in my memory as I followed the trail through the exhibition. The Grayson’s Art Club exhibition reminds us of the importance of art and community, providing hope in times of hardship and isolation.
The exhibition includes a wide range of artworks including sculpture, painting, tapestry, and ceramics. Among them is the neon sculpture Without Us There Is No Britain by established artist Chila Kumari Singh Burman which, as Burman states, ‘makes a direct comment on the legacy of colonialism and the significant contribution of migrant communities on the culture and heritage of Britain’. The large size and bright colours of the artwork grab the viewer’s attention, making you acknowledge the presence of both the artwork and migrant communities.
Another work which stood out to me was The Covid Captive by Andy Jeffrey, which was featured in Series 2, Episode 1 of Grayson’s Art Club. Inspired by his mother-in-law, Jeffrey’s structured rendering of a woman standing in her kitchen, peering out of a high window, depicts the isolation and loneliness that many have experienced over the last two years. The painting is quite minimalistic, emphasising the loneliness, and the high window elicits a feeling of entrapment. As the title states, she is a captive.
‘I was inspired by how well my mother-in-law coped during the first lockdown. Several of her friends passed away during this period. Being able to pay her respects was incredibly distressing. This painting shows her looking longingly out of the window with her ’essentials’ of life during that bleak time.’ -Andy Jeffrey
Grayson’s Art Club, and the accompanying exhibition, are a poignant artistic record of Covid-19 and its effects, and have united people through the challenges of the pandemic. The programme created a community to help people through Covid-19 when so many were isolated and provided an integral connection to art in a time when it has been inaccessible. In many ways, the exhibition is both a reflection of this and a celebration of being able to see art in person again.
There was also a personal touch to the exhibition, as it was curated to specifically fit onto and around the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, interwoven into its permanent exhibits. This was a nice surprise. Although the trail and the map were a little confusing at times because of this layout, it made the experience all the more enjoyable once you got the hang of it.
Overall, the exhibition is an incredibly moving chronicle of Britain in 2021, displaying a wide range of different works and themes. The charm of Grayson’s Art Club is undoubtedly the focus on art by the general public, giving people the opportunity to tell stories that otherwise may not have been heard. I urge you to visit this exhibition.
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