Grayson Perry b. 1960

Literature

Jackie Klein, Grayson Perry, Thames and Hudson, 2009, p29, illus colour

Description

'These were the very first vases that I made. I created a pair because that's the cliché of vases: 'Oh I have this Ming vase', ‘Yes, but if you had the pair it would be worth five times as much!'. They were sold in the first exhibition I had at James Birch's gallery in December 1984. I did very well at that show; I think it was because people bought the works as Christmas presents.

I made the pots from the idea I held of generic vase shapes, rather than by studying particular examples. That's how I worked then: I went to evening classes and I never took a sketchbook, I just made things off the top of my head. The imagery was me being an angry punk trying to shock people, so there's a Valkyrie in a wheelchair with a Swastika wheel decoration, bestial sex and references to drugs alongside Indian erotic miniatures.

Before these vases, I couldn’t really do sides - I could only do flat plates. It was too difficult to make them stand up. Coiling isn't tricky, of course - though I'm a lot better at it now' 1

Grayson Perry made his first ceramics at evening classes in September 1983. Although the technical aspects of the medium were new to him, he quickly incorporated into his ceramics the subjects he had previously been exploring using drawing, collage, film-making and performance. Consequently, this very early work has a surprising confidence and fully realised aesthetic; the drawing style and techniques of coiling and scraffito found here continue to form the basis of his current ceramic work.

Perry notes that in the 1960s and 1970s, ceramics was a deeply conservative branch of the arts. Its practitioners invariably drew upon forms and colours found in nature, and much of the works produced were, as he puts it, ‘seedpods and spirals’ 2. By inscribing such transgressive images onto a conventional vase, Perry reinvigorates the medium, whilst simultaneously taking a swipe at its cultural status as a signifier of middle class good taste.

All of Perry’s pots tells a specific story - often a complex autobiographical narrative, relating to identity, sexuality, gender and social class. Increasingly, he has combined contemporary references with forms and patterns drawn directly from the history of ceramics, for example Islamic Lustreware or Japanese Satsuma pottery.

1 Grayson Perry in conversation with Jackie Klein, Grayson Perry, Thames and Hudson, 2009, p29, illus colour
2 Ibid p17