Firstsite's The Great Big Art Exhibition invites the UK public to get creative

Running until the end of April, the UK is encouraged to draw, sculpt and paint to themes set fortnightly by artists such as Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Jeremy Deller, David Shrigley and Ai Weiwei.

29 January 2021

With more time on our hands now is a perfect time to get creative, something that The Great Big Art Exhibition – launched on 28 January – aims to inspire. People across the UK are invited to take part in a collaborative exhibition that sees the nation encouraged to draw, sculpt, paint and build their own piece of art and to stick up on their window, or any part of their house for that matter. Running until April 2021, a selection of renowned artists are set to choose a different theme each fortnight. First, it’s Antony Gormley who’s opened the show with a theme of animals. Sonia Boyce is following with a theme of portraits, while other artists include Etel Adnan and Simone Fattal, Anish Kapoor, Tai Shan, Jeremy Deller, David Shrigley, Ai Weiwei and Ryan Gander.

The exhibition is presented by Firstsite, Colchester, in order to celebrate its tenth anniversary and supported by the Plus Tate Network. Those involved in the exhibition can work individually or as a community, meaning they’re able to join up ‘virtually’ with others taking part. You can use any material to make the artworks, just as long as you stick to the theme every couple of weeks. Then, coinciding with the exhibition closing, a patchwork of artworks will be revealed by the summer.

“The doors to our collections and galleries might be shut but our imaginations are forever open,” says Sally Shaw MBE, director of Firstsite in the announcement. “Making, showing and experiencing art has created so much joy, connection and solace for many thousands of people. I can’t wait to see a brand new nationwide art gallery appearing before our eyes in coming days, weeks and months. This is sure to be an incredible expression of people’s creativity.”

Other partners of The Great Big Art Exhibition include Art UK, The Big Draw and Voluntary Arts – it’s also supported by Arts Council England. Firstsite will ensure that key works will be available to download, to then be used as a template or for colouring in as inspiration. Various galleries and museums have selected works that they think will spark some creativity, alongside the directors of the National Gallery, Tate, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, National Galleries of Scotland, V&A, National Museums Liverpool, Royal Academy of Arts, the Ashmolean Museum, The Courtauld, The Wallace Collection and Arts Council Collection.


Firstsite: The Great Big Art Exhibition. Artwork depicting animals, created by (left to right) Shalomy, aged 10, Benjamin, aged 6 and Stephanie, aged 8 is displayed in the window of a house in Acton, London. Photo by David Parry, PA Wire. (Copyright © David Parry, 2021)

These artworks include Cloude Monet’s The Water-Lily Pond (1899), oil on canvas 88.3 x 9.1 cm, chosen by Dr Gabriele Finaldi, at The National Gallery London. For this template, the director writes: “In 1893 Monet bought some land next to his house and created a water garden. He looked at it again and again over time, and inspired by its shapes, light and colour, he created over 250 paintings. Do you have a view from where you live which changes over time and which might inspire you to make an artwork?”

There are many inspiring templates available to get a jump start, including Burhan Doğançay’s A Look at the Bright Side (1970), paper 73 x 54 cm, donated by Joanna G – chosen by Hartwig Fisher from the British Museum, in honour of Alice Schwarz-Gardos. Sandra Penketh, executive director of art galleries and collections care at National Museums Liverpool, has chosen Édouard Vuillard’s Madame Hessel au Sofa (1905), oil on board. 54.6 x 54.6 cm, courtesy of Walker Art Gallery.

Meanwhile, a template of Melanie Manchot’s Dance (All Night, London), 2017 has been selected by Deborah Smith, director of Arts Council Collection, and Lubaina Himid’s Freedom and Change (1984) has been chosen by Tate’s director Maria Balshaw. “Lubaina is an artist of global significance, who lives and works in Preston. Just the title of this work speaks to what we are all looking for right now – freedom from difficult restrictions and change for the better.” says Maria in the statement. “Painted onto a pink bedsheet, the central image shows two black women dancing or running barefoot holding hands and joyfully challenging convention. I hope this painting might encourage people to take what is to hand around them and deploy it to imagine a different future.”

The Great Big Art Exhibition is running from 28 January - April 2021. Head to the Firstsite website for further instructions and creative resources.


Firstsite: The Great Big Art Exhibition. Artwork depicting animals, created by Louie is displayed in the window of a house in Acton, London. Photo by David Parry, PA Wire. (Copyright © David Parry, 2021)

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Ayla Angelos

Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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