The producer of our film new series, Unlock Art, reveals what it was like to direct Frank Skinner - and just how far he'll go to tell the story of Performance Art

I’m a producer in Tate Media’s film team and have been working on a new series of films called Unlock Art. Each film in the series deals with very big topics in art in just 4-5 minutes, so each one has a lot of ground to cover in a very short space of time. It’s a bit of a departure for Tate in that the ideas explored in the films are not centred around our collection, and it also takes a completely different style to most of our films, which are often based in the galleries or an artist’s studio. Each Unlock Art film also has a different presenter and we’ve had the chance to commission some animation and shoot in a green screen studio.

Frank Skinner and Susan Doyon, Unlock Art, Tate
Frank Skinner and with producer Susan Doyon at Tate Modern filming Unlock Art

When it came to finding contributors, I was really pleased that the comedian, writer and art-lover Frank Skinner agreed to work on the first film in the series about Performance Art. Frank understood the tone of the project right away, and brought a lot of energy to the film. Frank said:

I love the idea of Performance Art. Because I work in a line of performance where it’s very much about pleasing the audience, it’s a very needy job being a comedian, and you need to get that response, you need to get that laughter…Whereas, people who say, I’m going to sit in a bath of black liquid for two weeks, just the guts to do that…!

Frank Skinner Unlock Art Tate
Frank getting to grips with in-gallery potato peeling

The shoot day began in the morning at Tate Modern with Frank’s first piece to camera (with a potato) in the gallery. We went on to shoot in a few other locations before moving to a green screen studio to film a number of pieces which were then transformed by animation to what you see in the film. As a director, I find the green screen environment a strange place to work in – it’s nerve-wracking in that you can’t quite imagine what’s going to come of it, but the crew was great and Frank was a good sport – he didn’t object at all to wearing my woolly hat or a Viking helmet, or even to getting into the bathtub we arranged for the shoot.

Frank Skinner Unlock Art Tate
How did I get Frank Skinner in to a bathtub of mud? With the help of green screen.

Also included area lot of archive photos and videos to help bring the script to life. We’re barely skimming the surface of Performance Art from an art historical perspective, but my hope is that viewers might discover something new or have their curiosity piqued enough to find out more.

Frank Skinner Unlock Art Tate
Behind the green screen with Frank

There are still 7 films left in production, and I can reveal Peter Capaldi and Alan Cumming will be amongst the presenters and I’ll try to share more details as we go along. The next Unlock Art film (presenter and topic are still a secret) is due for release on 15 November - watch this space!


I love Lowry's work and so was delighted with the exhibition but...

You needed more of his landscapes and seascapes to show the breadth of his vision. It would have been nice to have had his "Man With Red Eyes" self portrait too. And you should have showed the "mysterious" Ann, at least once!

I didn't much like the other paintings that you showed with the Lowrys. They were all wrong. You should have gone for a complementary showing of Atkinson Grimshaw's work along with Lowry's - an Englishman, a Yorkshireman and an utterly brilliant artist who is under-appreciated - almost as much as Lowry used to be!

A couple of things you missed out on ... occasionally, as a joke, he sometimes used to put animal heads on his figures - making them human cats & dogs!

You could have bought a Lowry back in 1966 for about £300. That same painting today would cost you between £1.5 and 3.2 MILLION!!!

Going To The Match first sold by Andreas Kalman for just £300 - the last time it sold it went for £1.7 million!

When Lowry moved house from Pendlebury to Mottram, he couldn't take all his paintings and canvasses with him, so he left a good few for the next house owner. What did the new owner do? To his lasting shame and utter lifetime of regret ... he burnt them!!!! What an expensive bonfire that has since proven to be!!!!

Apparently, (so legend has it!) he never swore in his lifetime and disliked people who did. he never had a drink, never smoked, never travelled outside Britain, never flew in an aeroplane, or owned or ever drove a motor car, never owned a TV and was over 80 before he succumbed to actually owning a telephone!

What he achieved, with exemplary visionary control over just a 5 colour palette is incredible - he only used five colours - vermilion, Prussian blue, yellow ochre, black and white - all pure Windsor & Newton colours, straight out of the tube! Utterly amazing!!!

Apart from that, it was an excellent exhibition that breathed new life into the vast canon of a highly skilled artist who had a profound and highly unique vision and who was a very lovably likeable man.

He still today holds the record for turning down public honours - including a knighthood!

As Jonathan Horwich said: "Lowry was neither a simple man, nor a simple painter."

Three books to push on L S Lowry are the wonderful books by the late Shelley Rohde:

L S Lowry: A LIfe L S Lowry: A Biography

And the brilliantly anecdotal and delightfully entertaining

L S Lowry: Conversation Pieces (Andreas Kalman in conversation with Andrew Lambirth)

And also the superb ITV biopic:

Perspectives: Looking For Lowry

Atkinson Grimshaw next , pretty please!! Then John Singer Sargent perhaps...?

Sorry everyone. This got posted in totally the wrong place :( DOH!!!!!

I don't think Frank Skinner compares to L S Lowry in any way at all!! In or out of the bath!

The show was good. I enjoyed it myself. Of the works by others included I particularly liked the Adolphe Valette paintings. Lowry's price list was an insight into the way his mind worked: £10 10s 0d. I took 2-year-old children and they also enjoyed his large works, getting used to finding prams, dogs and the crowd scenes. Adults from overseas enjoyed the insight into an England before the motor car lined the streets from end to end. Was it just my imagination or did lots of elderly Mancunians come down to see how Lowry depicted them? The one painting that really astonished me was in the penultimate room with all the war injured people. I grew up near naval establishments and scenes in those years after the war were frequently of injured people back from the front line of combat.

Dear designhansa,
Thank you for your comment on our recent Lowry exhibition at Tate Britain, glad you enjoyed the show. If you'd like to leave any further comments on this show please do take a look at our Lowry blog series, accessible via this link Many thanks,
Susan Holtham, Assistant Blog Editor