Grayson Perry b. 1960

Provenance

Clara Scremini Gallery

Private collection acquired from the above in 1994

Exhibitions

Paris, Clara Scremini Gallery, Grayson Perry, June - July 1994, catalogue not traced.

Description

Grayson Perry began studying ceramics at evening classes in September 1983 a year after graduating in Fine Art from Portsmouth Polytechnic. Perry recalls that for a long time, ceramics had been a deeply conservative branch of the arts and its practitioners invariably drew heavily on forms and colours found in nature, much of it was based, as he puts it, on 'seedpods and spirals' [1]. While the technical aspects of this medium were new to him, he soon realised that he could introduce into his ceramics the same themes he'd been exploring in drawing, collage, film-making and performance. Perry started off making simple pots and plates, their forms lifted wholesale from the pages of pottery books, which, partly to annoy the other students, he would decorate with the rudest things he could think of - swastikas, penises, swear words. From the beginning his ceramics were highly auto-biographical, telling stories which were in turn funny, sad and challenging to the art world into which they were later accepted. Perry's approach remains largely unchanged and to this day, each pot is conceived to tell a specific story - often a complex parable of identity, sexuality, gender and social class.

Perry has always made coiled pots - a very basic way of building up a form by winding tubes of clay in a continuous spiral and then smoothing over the joins. This technique lends itself to making bigger objects and results in pots which are pleasingly imperfect, sometimes lumpen and quite obviously hand made. For Trapped in Suburban Hell, Perry borrows the elegant shape of a Greco Roman vase, a neutral form upon which he can work, as he has explained 'For me the shape has to be classical invisible: then you've got a base that people can understand.' [2] He has also kept to the palette of an ancient artifact as if to convince us from a distance that everything is as one would expect. As we move closer in, we see that in fact an arsenal of decorative techniques - incised line drawings, stamped letters, commercial transfers, coloured glazes and sprig moulding - are at play on the surface.

This pot depicts four female characters. The largest by far is a transvestite in handcuffs, engaging in some everyday S & M. The image of a 'tranny' immediately suggests that this could be the artist himself, dressed as his alter-ego Claire, but, in fact Claire, like Perry, is a blonde. In any case she has Claire's bouffant hairstyle and Princess Di earrings, which are offset by a skull and crossbones choker and Madonna-style basque. This main figure is set against a gaudy patterned carpet which Perry re-imagines using a commercial transfer. Perry has been adding these kind of open stock transfers to his pots since the late 1980s and the more kitsch and discordant the images the better he likes them. Elsewhere, transfers of a Victorian snow scene and pink flowers are used to decorate the women's dresses.

To the right of the main figure is a close up of a woman's head, her goldfish lips and the dotted lines on her face suggesting she's had a little too much cosmetic surgery. This woman has the same hairstyle as both the tranny and the next figure along, so perhaps they are meant to represent three aspects of the same character, or maybe Perry is suggesting that the countryside is full of Stepford Wives. The third figure looks more than a little like Princess Anne. She's clutching at the fabric around her stomach in a gesture which appears to reference Van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait (Fig.4). Perhaps, as in the portrait, this is to signify she's a married woman or maybe she's just wondering whether she's too fat for her mini-skirt. The final woman is an urban, art collector type, as indicated by her intellectual glasses and blunt fringe. She's cradling a glass of champagne, pointing at the main figure as if instructing her to perform. Through this character Perry appears to take a swipe at his own collectors as voyeurs, high on art itself and addicted to consumption.

Perry's women are rendered in an intentionally naive drawing style like schoolboy doodles, or maybe the naive tracings of outsider artist Henry Darger. Perry plays up to this reading by adding puerile, cartoonish details such as the transvestite's hairy armpits and the squiggly veins on her eyeballs and penis. This cast of women are set against a backdrop of English country life - there are dutch barn style houses and cows in the fields - but any sense of tranquility is disrupted by the intrusion of tabloid-style headlines stamped out in turquoise letters: 'Trapped in suburban hell', 'Body swap horror' 'Injected with cow hormone', 'Plastic surgery nightmare'. The three sprig moulds - Boticelli's Venus, a bearded God-like face and a smaller naked woman - add a further layer of narrative. They seem deliberately oversized lending an awkwardness to the otherwise elegant form of the pot. The small relief interacts particularly oddly with the drawn figure behind, as if this naked figure is emerging from the woman's neck, like Richard E. Grant's boil in How to Get Ahead in Advertising. The neck of the pot is decorated with a ring of barbed wire. In this case it goes with Perry's countryside theme, but it pops up as a more obviously gothic accent in other works, see for example The Ashes of Grayson Perry, 1988. Finally, nestled within the patterned carpet we find the artist's stamp, (W + anchor = Wanker), a joke with which he has signed his pots since 1992.

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] Grayson Perry in conversation with Jackie Klein, Grayson Perry, Thames and Hudson, 2009, p17
[2] exh. cat Grayson Perry, Guerilla Tactics, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2002, p14