Grayson Perry b. 1960


with Milagros Contemporary Art, San Antonio, Texas,
Private Collection, USA
Private Collection, UK


San Antonio, Texas, Trent Read Gallery, 1988, exhibition organised by London dealer James Birch


‘’Here I am handed to you on a plate. How prettily the words sit on its surface what a fine pattern they make, tasteful, classic, unbroken they could survive a million years. I'll be long dead another bead on the string hung with men of clay, good and honest men working good and honest material with their hands on heart and earth. What beauty lies in that, simple truth but it is a cruel loveliness, two or three kilogrammes of red earthenware clay. A slap of slip, a teaspoon of oxide, a cup or two of glaze costing to me less than one pound, to you it costs no more than a half decent dress or a weekend skiing and its probably an investment. I only see your cash as my dues for I have worked hard these last ten years to capitalize on the trauma of the previous eighteen. In truth to myself I should admit that this is the work of a deviant revelling in the complexity of man's life now. For no lonely ultimate do I strive, instead I seek only to relay the perverted mess of my life to yours. True there is a price on this humble cry, but no more than is deserved by the boy who lay prostrate in the dew to some unknown venus wearing a cheap nylon dress under a November moon on the lawn of a Victorian mansion. You pay but an honest wage to praise such a spirit and of course his dealer. In my search for truth I am scared of discovering the full facts about myself, so I resort to that revered tool, imagination. Unfortunately, after a few years of struggling to be 'original' one comes to realise that imagination is just a reorganisation of things past, that nothing is new and our minds grind the world into a universal paste, like clay each molecule a representative example of the whole of existance, a grain of lifeless truth. As for yourself you have 'good taste', the opposite of imagination, there is nothing so relaxing as getting away from the world of ideas and spending a lot of money, soothing transactions, tokens of power for posessions of status. The lust for ownership is a need for power over those who envy and admire, power all the greater if the object of desire is unique. You have not come to the altar of personality consumerism to fill a space on your wall 38 x 47 cm. No indeed you have come to make a serious deal incorporating and associating part of my character with yours. This compact lends you credibility, as a holder of mysterious wisdom, as for me, I gain money and notoriety for the 'character' you buy into.’’

Grayson Perry learned ceramics not at art school, where he studied sculpture, but later at evening classes in 1983, aged 23. It was whilst on this course that Perry made his first plate, Kinky Sex, 1983, as he recalls, ‘I was watching what other people were doing and somebody was making a press-moulded plate. I thought that it looked easy, since it gives you a surface to decorate. So I tried one, and quickly realized that I could make an artwork in a single week: with three hours of evening classes I could roll out the clay, put it on the kiln, dry it out, decorate it, press a few things in and it was done. The following week it was dry and I fired and glazed it. I thought, Christ, I’m onto a winner here! I had a much shorter attention span in those days.’ This plate, with the words ‘Kinky Sex’ emblazoned across the bottom and featuring what appears to be an image of a crucified transvestite Christ with a coin melted across his groin, was an early, crude attempt by the artist at press-moulding, slip trailing, sprig moulding and sgraffito.

In the late 1980s, Perry made a number of what he described as ‘TV-screen shaped’ plates and dishes, including the present work and I Was Just An Ordinary Person, 1988. Both of these examples exhibit a range of techniques and a degree of finesse, both in terms of composition and execution, reflecting the five years Perry had been making ceramics at this point.

Perry claims that he is not an innovator of ceramics per se, because he makes pots and plates based on classical forms, using traditional techniques. Producing the majority of his plates using the same press-moulding technique he first learnt in 1983, the artist focusses his time and attention on their decorative aspect. Here the details on the surface include a background painted in white slip, an all-over pattern comprised of words impressed into the surface of the clay using letter stamps and what appears to be a self-portrait of the artist as a skeletal potter painted in black and coloured slip in the centre.

Using text Perry highlights what he sees as the dichotomy between the art collector (the very person likely to buy the work) who has ‘good taste’, and the artist, who has ‘imagination’ and ‘ideas.’ Perry’s suggestion that the collector purchases art purely as a symbol of ‘status’ and ‘power’ and as a means to gain ‘credibility’ and the appearance of ‘wisdom,’ reveals his negative feelings towards an art world he sees as full of bourgeois aspiration and pretentiousness. He ridicules the collector for spending money equal ‘to a weekend skiing’ or ‘a half decent dress’ on a work which he has made for ‘less than one pound.’ By likening the plate to a fancy dress and a cliché middle class holiday, the artist is suggesting that the artwork is just another consumerist object with a price tag, that only a certain type of person could afford, whilst simultaneously addressing his ambivalent feelings about making money (earning a living) from art. Perry explores these themes in other ceramics, see for example, Posh Art, 1992 and Them and Us, 2001.

1 The text which features on the surface of Hand it to you on a plate, 1988
2 The artist cited in Jacky Klein, Grayson Perry, Updated and Expanded Edition, Thames & Hudson, 2013, p26
3 Klein, ibid, p35