Grayson Perry b. 1960

Provenance

with Laurent Delaye Gallery, London

Private Collection, acquired October 2000

Description

'A lot of my work has always had a guerrilla tactic, a stealth tactic. I want to make something that lives with the eye as a beautiful piece of art, but on closer inspection, a polemic or an ideology will come out of it. Not that is destroys the intrinsic pattern and beauty of it. I don't want to sacrifice the aesthetic for the idea. I want the two to be so close that they live happily together, or maybe not happily, but so that there is a frisson.' [1]

Grayson Perry

'The more crassly materialistic the world becomes the more it gives rise to pseudo-spiritual clap-trap'[2]

Terry Eagleton, literary theorist.

Pseudo-Spiritual Claptrap is a pot by Grayson Perry which makes use of all his signature techniques - photo transfers, line drawing, typography, decorative glazes, sprig moulds - to explore three of his big themes - 'Sex', 'Art' and 'God'. The most prominent feature of its design are three large photo transfers, in tones of red, over which these words are scrawled. Two are of Perry himself; in the first (Sex) he is dressed as a woman wearing a rather dated 1980s blouse. A less cropped version of the same photo appears as a transfer on another pot, Contained Anger, 1999, where it's more obvious that Perry is also wearing handcuffs (Fig.4). The top and jewelry Perry is wearing are typical of the kind of 'suburban housewife' characters he likes to invent, but more specifically he seems to be dressed as infamous brothel owner Cynthia Payne, who wore a very similar outfit for a press shoot at her home and in subsequent TV appearances (Fig.5). In 1978 Payne's Streatham house was raided by police who caught a number of senior public figures attending an S & M party. Payne was subsequently prosecuted and imprisoned for brothel keeping but refused to name her famous clients. She became a national figure, campaigning for the legalisation of prostitution and writing a book which inspired two films Wish you Were Here and Personal Services (both 1987). It's not surprising that Perry would be interested in Payne's story which became synonymous with the hypocrisy of the English ruling classes and perversion in the suburbs. Perry's own transvestism, which began in his teens and is described poignantly in his autobiography, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl, is a constant subject within his work. In his art Perry presents this aspect of himself at one remove and as such his audience might misread his female persona 'Claire' as a type of artistic performance. But as Jacky Klein suggests, 'The power, pathos and oddness of his transvestism, lie not in its status as performance. This is no mere stunt: his is a publicly played out compulsion - one rooted in rejection, unhappiness and the need to be loved simply for being oneself'.[3]


The second image of Perry (labelled God) frames his head and naked torso, his head thrown back in a pseudo-religious or possibly auto-erotic pose (Fig.2). This image looks to be part of a larger series of photographs taken by the artist, another of which appears on the pot I am My Own God, also made in 1998. In this photo Perry is standing on a step ladder between two large vases, suggesting he is posing, not as Christ, but rather as a classical Greek statue. In the slightly earlier work, My Gods, 1994 (coll. Tate Gallery, London), Perry invents four gods to oversee different aspects of his own experience including 'the god of quiet machismo' and the 'god of imagination'. He explained later that in making this work he was 'looking back and inventing my own gods', and that these were intrinsically connected to his conception of his parents: 'When you're a child, your gods are whoever you're told they should be...An innocent child worships gods that have aspects of its parents in them: there's a sort of projection of parent onto god. Some people have a very screwed up idea of god: if you have a vengeful parent you probably have a vengeful god.' [4] For Perry then, the subject of god has less to do with the question of religious faith, than with his engagement with psychotherapy and the untangling of his troubled relationship with his parents. Being 'ones own god' is about reclaiming one's own identity from the gods of one's childhood.

The third large transfer (Art) shows the young and pretty Sadie Coles, her identity partly obscured by the skull and crossbones scrawled over her face (Fig.3). Coles, who is now one of Britain's most successful contemporary art dealers was at this time working as an assistant to the dealer Anthony D'Offay, at whose gallery Perry had two solo exhibitions in 1994 and 1996-7. Perry parted company with D'Offay's gallery, wishing the relationship goodbye in the artwork Portrait of Anthony D'Offay, 1998, a pair of salt and pepper pot / penises which mimicked the phallic Hindu carvings D'Offay liked to collect. On one form Perry inscribed the names of the commercially successful artists D'Offay represented and on the other the names of corporations and banks - the work both insult and homage to the dealer Perry described as a 'distant father figure'. Here his assistant Coles has a gamine femininity. The skull and crossbones over her face do not feel malicious in intent, perhaps she is an angel of the art world. It is under her image that we find the title of the work - 'Pseudo-Spiritual Claptrap', although it seems unlikely these are her words. Perry draws a relationship here between 'Art' and death just as the phallus drawn next to the word 'God' equates the artist with creation.


Perry's many references to art collectors and art dealers within his work is given a whole chapter in Jackie Klein's book on the artist, which begins with this quote from Perry: 'The art world is a distinct, tribal micro-culture, a little village of witchdoctors who make artworks about their belief system and their concerns' [5]. Perry's ambivalent attitude to the art industry is an enduring theme, as we see in works such as Pot Designed for a Wealthy Westerner with Good Taste, 1994, Video Installation, 1999 and Lovely Consensus, 2003. Perry has described finding meaning and belonging in the art world, but he simultaneously experiences it as a cultural construction which is faintly ridiculous. His interest in this subject is inseparable from a wider fascination with the signifiers of social class and his own story of social mobility from nominally working-class childhood into the middle class / urban elite.

As the opening quote suggests, the present pot is self-consciously beautiful in design. The complex blue/green background, chimes with the 'spiritual' theme, and has been achieved by Perry layering several glazes over one another and then rubbing back the surface before firing. The resulting pattern of colours is highly decorative, suggesting ikat woven textiles or washed silk. Once devised, Perry used this method in various colour combinations - see for example the 1996 pots Gimmicks (blue/green) and Transference (pink/acid yellow) and Hot Afternoon in 75, 1999 (pink/blue).


The theme of pseudo-spirituality is reflected in the pot's smaller motifs. The outline of three full-sized hands are placed between the between the transfer images, suggesting a number of associations from cave painting, to mehndi hand painting and Greek icons, while the patterns of dotted white lines fall somewhere between rosary beads and tribal markings. Tiny images, both sacred and profane, are scattered all over the pot - flowers, penises vaginas, hands and crosses. There are a series of small figures placed around the pot - three are lying in coffins, one appears to be breaking out of a coffin and one is an intersex figure with supersized breasts and penis. This coffin motif also features on I am My Own God and across numerous other works (Cemetery of Beliefs, 2005, Temple for Everyone, 2008). The scale and character of this image is inspired by an extraordinary work of 19th century folk art, Elizabeth Roseberry Mitchell's Graveyard Quilt - to which the maker sewed tiny coffins bearing the names of her relatives, which, as they died, she later unpicked and resewed within a central graveyard (Fig.6).

Perry gives a little three-dimensionality to his surface by the addition of three unglazed sprig moulds, which add a jokey 'ancient artifact' feel to the pot, but which also look rather like Lincoln biscuits. And finally, nestled among the images near the foot we find the artist's stamp, itself a joke, the letter W over a picture of an anchor = 'Wanker'.

Pots and other works in ceramic remain at the heart of Perry's artistic practice, however, since the mid 2000s, he has worked in depth across a number of other media. Often presented for sale as limited editions, Perry has produced large-scale tapestries, machine embroideries (a medium he also uses to decorate his dresses), etchings (particularly autobiographical 'maps'), woodcuts, and, most recently, stainless-steel votive shrines and ceramic piggybanks. Perry's autobiography Portrait of The Artist as a Young Girl, published in 2007, gave a frank and sometimes hilarious account of his life as a cross-dressing teenager growing up in suburban Essex. The book demonstrated Perry's instinctive talent for storytelling and suggested that he might have something to say to an audience beyond the art world. Since 2012, he has written and presented five multi-part documentaries for Channel Four: All in the Best Possible Taste, Who Are You?, All Man, Divided Britain & Rites of Passage, which have examined, the artist's favourite themes, respectively, the art world, identity, masculinity, social class and death. In 2015, work was completed on Perry's A House for Essex, a full-size house/artwork made in collaboration with FAT Architecture, located in Wrabness, Essex. The entire exterior and interior of the house has been decorated by the artist, which, through specially conceived pots, tapestries, moulded tiles, mosaic floors Perry, tells the life story of fictional Essex woman 'Julie Cope'.

[1] exh. cat Grayson Perry, Guerilla Tactics, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2002, p24

[2] literary theorist, Terry Eagleton, 'The Enlightenment is Dead, Long Live the Enlightenment', quoted in Bill Murray, Ethical Marxism, Open Court, Chicago, 2008

[3] Jacky Klein, Grayson Perry, Thames and Hudson, London, 2009, p127

[4] Tate Gallery website, the artist quoted in Jacky Klein, Grayson Perry, Thames and Hudson, London, 2009, p176

[5] Klein, p225