The title of his recent Channel 4 show suggests we, the British public, are on first-name terms with the artist Grayson Perry; and it’s true that this piece of lockdown telly has a charming sense of intimacy and playfulness. Filmed mostly in Perry’s home studio – intercut with scenes from his other TV shows, grainy shots of the homes of other recognisable Brits, or pixellated smartphone footage sent in by Channel 4 viewers – there’s a homespun informality to the whole affair. This is appropriate for a programme that insists that art – not the lofty, grand kind of art that sits only in gilt frames in expensive capital cities, but the kind that you and I can make in our homes, here and now – might help us through this crisis.
In the first episode, themed around portraits, Perry sits sketching his wife Philippa, chuckling at the eyebags that have appeared on her face over the years. “I have an idealised vision of you, Phil,” he laughs. “So it’s very hard for me to confront…” “The reality?” she offers, with a grim smile. We watch the couple pottering around, drinking cups of coffee and cleaning their kiln, as though they were on Gogglebox (the Perry family did appear on the celebrity version of that show last year).
“I’m well used to being turned down by the Royal Academy,” a gruff off-camera voice says as he takes some wobbly phone footage of a sculptural portrait. “Grayson Perry turned me down a couple of years ago, but I don’t hold a grudge.” Perry wheezes with laughter at the country’s attempts at recreating famous artworks as photos. I could do without the appearances of Channel 4’s favourite comedians (such as Keith Lemon) but Grayson’s meandering chatter – with his wife, other artists (amateur or otherwise) and direct to camera – is a balm.
This article appears in the 13 May 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Land of confusion