In 2011, Grayson Perry curated the exhibition 'The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman' at the British Museum in London. The exhibition included a section devoted to maps and in the accompanying catalogue, Perry described his interest in the subject:
'We trust maps. Maps are meant to be a trustworthy diagram of reality. All maps, though, contain some human bias. They can emphasize desirable features and leave out the undesirable. I like maps of feelings, beliefs and the irrational; they use our trust of maps to persuade us that there might be some truth in their beauty.'
'Maps that purport to show the geography not of real places but of imaginary lands, feelings or social phenomena have always fascinated me, I think they are very symptomatic of our desire to make sense of the unpredictable and irrational in our lives. As a child I would make maps of my imaginary world and I still enjoy creating them today. Applying such an empirical device to emotive issues in society seems inherently humorous … perhaps someone today should devise a satnav App for moral guidance.' 1
As in his ceramics, Perry's recent etchings are a kind of self-portraiture, charting the artist's life and thoughts. They are ambitious in their scope and as one would expect from Perry they are funny and tinged with pathos. Map of Days is incredibly detailed, it is unusually large for this form of printmaking and the final image has been composited from four separate plates. It relates in style and tone to a map of Pilgrim's Progress made by W. Jeffreys in c1800, which was included in the British Museum show and which includes such evocative places such as 'The Slough of Despond' and the 'County of Coveting'.
In the centre of the map is a circle, in which stands a tiny figure, the artist, with the words 'A Sense of Self'. Roads branch off from this circle entitled, amongst other things, 'Ambition', 'Imagination' and 'Nepotism'. Perry's source for the buildings within the city was the book Lost London, 1870-1945 by Philip Davies and the architectural details and adverts on the buildings are faithful to these Edwardian photographs. The city walls are deliberately spikey, offering protection from the outside world, which includes hostile places such as a wood called 'Fear of the Unknown'. There is a mountain range called 'Paranoia' and two rivers called 'Imagination' and 'Inspiration' run down each side of the image.
Tiny dates at the top left corner, show that Perry started work on this print on 2 August 2012 and he completed it on 19 March 2013. Two portraits in the map refer directly to the time period in which the print was made - these are cyclist and national hero, Bradley Wiggins, who won an Olympic medal on 1 August 2012, the day before the print was begun, and the art critic Robert Hughes, who died five days later. The other two portraits are of Perry's wife Philippa (Phil), who is included within the city walls and the poet Philip Larkin. The print takes its title from Larkin's well-known 1953 poem 'Days':
What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.
1 Grayson Perry, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, British Museum exhibition catalogue, 2011, pp111, 119