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On The Theme Of Family.

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Grayson’s Art Club. Art series.
Grayson and Philippa Perry are joined by former Turner Prize winning artist Fob Dodd, who revisits her famous exploding fridge. Plus, Grayson and Philippa choose their favourite public submissions on the theme of ‘Family’


(Grayson is scrolling through images on a screen. The camera focuses briefly on each picture, before closing in full-screen on a pencil sketch. The viewer sees a family group gathered around a picnic rug on a beach. The sea is lightly suggested in the background. The drawing is simple, the lines economical, with little shading or detail.)

Grayson: Our first artist today is Ann. Hello Ann, and welcome to Art Club. Now I gather you didn’t actually send this in yourself?

(View of a slightly blurry video screen. Ann is a middle-aged woman with grey-blonde hair neatly tied back, and a pleasant, open face. She is blushing and seems embarrassed.)

Ann: No, I never expected anyone to look at this. My - my friend sent it in without telling me!
Grayson: We’re very glad to have the chance to see it! There’s something wistful about your picture - you’ve drawn everything that we don’t have or can’t have at the moment. We’re still in winter, all stuck inside, and you’ve drawn a sunny day at the beach and all the family gathered there for a day out. Now I’m told you’ve been working as a midwife in hospital throughout the whole of the pandemic. How’s that been?
Ann: It’s been very difficult for everyone. It’s awfully frightening for the expectant mothers when they have to come in without their partner to support them, especially if they’re afraid that something is wrong …. Of course, we do all we can to be reassuring and to be there for them ….
Grayson: It’s not easy for anyone in the NHS at the moment. Whatever your role, we salute you.
Ann: I’m just glad to be able to do something useful.
Grayson: And your drawing? We’ve been talking about the role of art in helping people through lock-down. Do you find it helps you recover from the stress of your working day?
Ann: Absolutely. I find I switch off and just focus on the picture. It’s a way for me to stay healthy and keep going. For a long time I’d given up on drawing and other things - like playing music - but recently - following the advice of friends - I’ve realised that I can be more helpful to others if I’m in an effective frame of mind myself.
Grayson: So drawing helps recharge your batteries in a way? Let’s talk about your picture. I love the simplicity of it - there’s not a single line wasted, and yet there’s so much going on. It’s a big family scene, yet everyone’s doing their own thing. There’s these two children sitting on this rock, absorbed in a game of their own. Then there’s this girl, lost in her book; and this looks like the mother sorting out the picnic basket. But I feel there’s something hidden or mysterious about what they’re all thinking or feeling - their faces are all turned away from the viewer -
Ann: Well, that’s mainly because I can’t draw faces very well -
Grayson: (laughs) And then there’s this one person at a slight distance, looking back at them. Is she leaving? How does she fit into the group? It’s not clear. Like all the best pictures it leaves a little bit for the imagination to do.
Ann: I think in big families there’s sometimes a child who doesn’t quite - doesn’t quite fit. Like a changeling maybe, someone who never feels as though they’re thinking the same thing as everyone else. Or, I don’t know, maybe everyone feels that way sometimes?
Grayson: I think that’s what your sketch encapsulates - the mix of the seemingly universal but also the individual undercurrents running through family life. I think it’s great, and with your permission, I’d like to include it in our Lockdown Exhibition.
Ann: (Still blushing ) Goodness, thank you so much.

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Grayson: With us next, Fob Dodd.

(Video runs. Title at the bottom of the screen reads ‘The Heart Of The Family’ 2002.
The scene is an empty beach, grey and desolate. The camera zooms in towards a fridge, standing alone in the middle of the beach. As the fridge fills the screen, it can be seen that it is covered with children’s paintings and crayon drawings. As the view focuses on these drawings, a loud explosion from within the fridge lifts it off the ground, the door flies off and the sides crumple outwards. The screen is filled with sand and flying debris. As this settles, the remains of the fridge can be seen, crumpled and in bits. Shreds of paper flutter to the ground.)

Grayson: Fob Dodd is joining us on Art Club today to talk about how the theme of family is expressed in her work. Welcome Fob. We’ve just seen your early work ‘The Heart Of The Family’. Tell us what you were thinking when you made that.

(View on video screen - Fob Dodd in her studio. Fob is in her mid forties, and has dark, choppy hair framing a strong, square face.)

Fob: There’s sometimes a very cosy, sentimental view of ‘family’ especially in advertising and on TV, and I hate the deliberate falseness of a lot of that. As you know, Grayson, I was mostly estranged from my own family. My father was an angry, controlling man who I don’t think ever got over the death of my mother. And I resented being shoe-horned into the world of my step-mother, where I was increasingly alien - anyway, I talked rather a lot about all that back in the day - when I was going through my ‘enfant terrible’ phase if you like -
Grayson and Fob: laughter.
Fob: I always saw ‘family’ as an unstable chemical formula, you know, always on the verge of disintegrating or even exploding with just the wrong bit of friction - and lockdown must have made it worse - I don’t like to think of people being cooped up all day, every day, always wondering what’s going to set off the next row. So anyway, I wanted to blow something up. And I thought, what says ‘family’ more than the fridge covered with the children’s drawings - I mean, if you walk into someone’s house you can tell a family lives there as soon as you see the fridge, right?
Grayson: Indeed. But you’re showing us something new today. Has your view of the family changed at all?
Fob: Not entirely, but maybe some of the edges have rubbed off. My father died last year - of Covid finally, although there were other underlying issues -
Grayson: And how did you feel about his passing?
Fob: We had spoken not long before. I mean, we were on speaking terms over the last few years, so even if I wasn’t exactly a ‘daddy’s girl’ we were at least trying to understand each other a little bit …. But one of the side-effects, if you can call it that, was that my step-mother was clearing a lot of stuff out of the house, and she found a stash of my old drawings. Some of them are from right back when I was five or six. My first reaction was just to throw them all away, but then I started looking at them.

(Fob holds up to camera a crumpled piece of paper covered with chalky colouring.)

Fob:I decided I was pretty great when I was six. I mean, look at my lovely blue sun!
Grayson: laughs.
Fob: So I decided to cut them up and incorporate them into something.

( Cut to video. Speeded-up time lapse of Fob at work. She mixes flour and water, rips up newspaper and starts covering a large, rectangular box with papier mache. Cut to view of Fob spraying white paint over the dried ‘box’. Dabbing in details with silver paint. Camera pans out to reveal papier mache, lifesize model of fridge. Fob wields scissors dramatically in front of the camera. More timelapse of Fob cutting pictures and other scraps, and pasting them over the ‘fridge’. Finally, Fob stands back and the view closes in on the finished piece. The papier mache fridge is completely covered with a collage of people and shapes as drawn by a child, mostly in crayon, mixed with scraps from magazines and postcards, cuttings from newspapers - the camera focuses on one for just long enough for the sharp-eyed viewer to see that it is an obituary - maps and letters.)

Fob: ‘The Heart Of The Family Part Two’.
Grayson: I love a good collage, as you know Fob, and I love your fridge! I can’t wait to look at it in more detail. Will you let us show it in our exhibition?
Fob: Of course!
Grayson: Now, you’ve been looking through this week’s public submissions too. Which one have you picked as your favourite?
Fob: I’ve gone for this one. It’s very dark, and quite simple in its use of blocks of colour and I’m intrigued by this mysterious figure.

(View switches to photo of large canvas painting. Blocks of blue, grey and green colour fill most of the canvas. Near the top a faint humanoid shape shows behind a pale blue slab of colour.)

Grayson: It’s almost ghostly, isn’t it. I can’t tell if it’s a person, or a child even, and whether it’s swimming or reaching out..
Fob: It’s almost ‘not waving but drowning’. It looks like a sea made out of bricks, so that it’s become a wall.
Grayson: This is by Judith from Dorset, and this is what she wrote about it when she sent it in - (reads) I painted this a long time ago, when someone close to me was far away, emotionally as well as physically. I looked at it again because it now symbolises all those family members that people can’t see or meet or connect with during this time.
Grayson: Let’s speak to Judith. Hello! Welcome to Art Club!

(Video screen shows a thin, smiling woman, grey hair smoothed back behind a flowery head tie.)

Judith: Hello! Thank you for having me!
Grayson: This painting feels very dark and despairing. Do you think that’s a reflection of the times we’re going through?
Judith: I’m sure it is for some people. We’ve all had our troubles, in different ways. But we have to hope that we will weather the storm, even if it seems rough at the moment.
Grayson: But I understand your more recent paintings are optimistic?
Judith: Yes. (Judith moves aside and indicates the wall behind her, on which hang a couple of sunlit landscapes.) Spring will be here soon, even if it doesn’t feel like it. I went through a bad phase in my life when I was younger, and it was painting that helped me get through it. I think it’s the same now.
Grayson: That’s the whole philosophy of Art Club - that creativity, making art - on whatever level - is vital to helping us stay sane and find meaning and comfort through all this.
Judith: Yes, there was a time when my life was in absolute pieces. It was taking up painting again that helped me start putting it back together. I honestly think I wouldn’t be here now if it hadn’t been for art.
Grayson: Can we look more closely at some of your other pictures?

Judith: Sure! (Camera - rather wobbly - is moved and the viewer sees a landscape in close up - a clifftop path in spring time. Flowers stud the grass, echoing the white flecks sparkling on the sea; a couple of distant walkers have paused to admire the view. The painting seems to shimmer with light.)

Grayson: I can almost feel the spring sunshine when I look at that. It’s lovely. I think we’re all looking forward to a future day that feels like your painting. Thank you for showing us.
Judith: Thank you!
Grayson: Thank to all our artists who’ve sent their work in for us to see. Now, let’s see how Alan Measles is getting on…..