Grayson Perry’s Art Club – Britain!

By Bernie Bell

For the sixth, and final, episode of Grayson Perry’s Art Club, the theme was….Britain!  What does Britain mean to people today?   A very big theme to tackle at the present time.  Brave man, Grayson – taking that one on.

Grayson’s first guest in this episode, was Liza Tarbuck, who began with her admiration of Banksy, and an image of when he ‘clamped’ the chariot wheels on the statue of Boudicca and Her Daughters  on the embankment, in London.

Liza sees this as a good expression of how British life is being ‘clamped’ by the limitations imposed by the Coronavirus – as the clamp halts movement of Boudicca’s chariot, so lock-down – or clamp down – puts a halt to many aspects of our lives, including, possibly, the opportunity to create and express.  Which, as I understand it, is one of the reasons Grayson Perry set up his ‘Art Club’ – to give folk an outlet for their creativity, observations, expression.

We, the public, are being ‘clamped’ – for our own good.

I’m not sure about the economy – it’s more like a rapid downwards whirlpool – plenty of movement there – all in the wrong direction.

Liza admires Banksy – she admires his irreverence and disregard for authority, and how he expresses this attitude.

We have a book by  Banksy, and I like a lot of what he does. Some of what he produces is witty, funny and/or clever. I do like his rats.  What I noticed is the number of images of his pieces, where folk are walking past them, and they don’t appear to even notice them. People really don’t pay attention to what’s around them, do they?

But – I also noticed the usual ‘warning’ at the  beginning of the book, about copying anything from it.  I thought, what a little hypocrite!  And, I emailed him, thus………..

“My husband bought a copy of your book ‘Wall and Piece’ in a charity shop yesterday (published in 2006). I’d had some idea of what you do, but only vaguely. I likes it – especially the rats.

But……at the beginning of the book, you say “Copyright is for losers”. ( I’d say that it’s for mean people and scardy-cats, myself).  That statement is then followed by the usual copyright baloney!

If that book had been published without the copyright baloney, sticking to what you had said there – the publisher would still have made lots of money, you’d still have made lots of money,  but you wouldn’t have been a hypocrite.

Fact is, if I want to copy something from that book, I will.  Fact is, if I want to copy something from any book, I do – so sue me!

So, what’s with the double standard there?  The rest of what you do is clever, funny, disturbing, disheartening, heartening – good stuff. I was becoming a ‘fan’, then I read the copyright baloney.

Take it easy.”

I didn’t get an answer.

I wonder, would quoting the ‘warning’ about re-producing something from the book, count as breach of copyright?  The little hypocrite.

Liza herself had made a piece from pieces of material – holding the threads together.  She apologised for leaving out what she referred to as ‘The Orkneys’.  No need to apologise, Liza – ‘The Orkneys’ mostly don’t care much about being ‘sewn’ on to the rest of Britain!  Scotland, yes, Britain…???

Grayson then spoke with The Singh Twins

I remember when a painting of  Maharaja Duleep Singh, by the Singh Twins, made its debut at an exhibition in the Stromness Museum in Orkney, in 2014.  The Orcadian connection came about because, when the Maharaja was deposed, the English Crown assigned the role of being his Guardian, to Sir John Login, after whom Logins Well, in Stromness is named.

And back to The Singh Twins.  The piece of work which they showed to Grayson, as how they see Britain at this time, was a variation on the theme of St. George and the Dragon – except – the figure on the white horse, subduing the ‘Dragon’ of the Coronavirus, is an Asian nurse, in full PPE, with Boris Johnson sitting behind her, pulling back on the horse’s reins to slow her down,  whilst prodding her in the back, to add insult to injury.

The Twins mentioned the loss of a personal friend  to Covid–19.  This friend was an NHS worker.

To me, this spoke of all the unnecessary deaths, due to lack of attention being paid, action not being taken quickly enough, and the workers not having adequate protection.  I thought……….. ‘NHS Lives Matter.’

And, many of the NHS workers who fell victim to the virus, were of immigrant origin, and were of colour – Black, West Indian, Asian, South-east Asian. Ironically, St. George, the saviour of Britain, is said to have been of Turkish origin. No comment needed.

And many NHS workers are of fair skinned immigrant stock – of Irish origin, for example.  All are British, live in Britain today.  All …matter.

The name ‘Singh’, and writing of the links between Britain and other nations, brought to mind a personal memory of my own. When I was young, before I left Bradford, I knew a Sikh lad, named Padi Satnam Singh.  Padi used to come to dances, and dance like a madman – he could really dance – whirling and whirling round. Then, his turban would un-wind, and a cascade of long, deep, deep black hair would fall, flowing round him as he danced.  It’s not often you see a Sikh man with his hair down, and it was a sight to see – Padi  with his hair flowing round him as he danced.  A fine memory.

A photographer sent in a picture of a queue. The British do like to queue, and are known for queuing in an orderly manner. If anyone ‘pushes in’, they are very much frowned on and ‘tut-tutted’.  I remember the bit in ‘The Full Monty’ where the ex-steel workers are in the Dole queue, and ‘Hot Stuff’ by Donna Summer comes on the radio – and they break into their dance routine – keeping their places in the queue, dancing on the spot, with a twirl, at the end. Then back to queuing.

In the picture of a queue which Grayson showed us, people were keeping their distance – 2 Metres – or  6ft to us non-metric folk.

Grayson commented that, anyone looking at that image, could place it in time, to this time.  Britain today – queuing – but 6ft apart. No chatting, no passing the time of day.

Sign of the Times.

Grayson’s own contribution, was a pot – he called it a flagon. If only Britain today could be represented as a flagon – a good, old, jolly flagon of ale, in an ale house.  If only it were that simple.

Grayson’s flagon, was far from simple – watch the programme and see for yourself.

His pot was described by wife Philippa as representing “The gentle, affectionate hypocrisy of Britain.”  She’s a sharp-eyed woman, is Philippa.

And then, as often happens here, due to atmospherics, the end of this episode disintegrated into chopped up lines across the screen, and a ‘breaking up’ soundtrack.

Britain today.

I’ve enjoyed watching this series – it’s given me a lot of food for thought.

And how would I express my view of Britain today? Maybe a simple graphic, of the Divided Kingdom…

Alba and Cymru aligned one way. ‘Britannia’ aligned another way – at cross-purposes to Alba & Cymru.

And what about what’s referred to as Northern Ireland?  Well, that joins with Eire, singing ‘Thank God we’re surrounded by water.”

Details of Grayson’s Art Exhibition will be released, on the telly, over the next few months.


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