One of the greatest social-commentators on British culture, Grayson Perry is the dress-wearing potter, who makes brutally honest and satirical vases commenting on British culture and taste, often exploring class, gender, identity and popular culture. Here we explore one of the most loved British artists of today...
1. Perry’s childhood has been a major influence on his work. After his father left when we was young, his mother remarried his step-father, a violent man whom Perry didn’t get on with. Perry recalls hiding from his step-father in the family shed, which is where he would engage in a fantasy world with his teddy bear, Alan Measles, whom he has described as: "surrogate father, rebel leader, fighter, pilot and undefeated racing driver." Alan is a frequent feature in Perry's work, and is reincarnated in different forms. Perry has also described Alan as a God; “About 15 years ago, I was doing a show in Japan and I wanted to do a piece about religion. I needed a God I actually believed in, so I chose him.” Perry also uses the name Alan Measles as his pseudonym on Twitter.
2. Perry was 13 when he first recorded in his diary, his love of dressing up as a woman. The self-titled ‘Transvestite Potter’ continues to dress up in ladies clothing and refers to himself when in drag, as Claire. He explains that dressing up allows him to explore his own masculinity; “Because I am a transvestite, people often assume that this gives me a special insight into the opposite gender. But this is rubbish: how can I, brought up as a man, know anything about the experience of being a woman? It would be insulting to women if I thought I did. If anything, it gives me a sharper insight into what it is to be a man, since from the age of twelve I have been questioning my own masculinity.”
3. The artist originally had ideas about joining the army, before a teacher suggested he apply for art school. Perry studied for a BA in fine art at Portsmouth Polytechnic before going on to study pottery, after taking free pottery evening classes which is where he met his wife, Philippa - a psychotherapist and writer. Perry admits he started by making plates which was the easiest thing to create. Perry continued to work in this medium because of the craftiness and tradition associated to ceramics and pottery, which he feels has always been rejected by the established contemporary art world as a second class art form. Discussing why he works with pottery, he says; "I enjoyed the anti-fine art ethos of it. Pottery felt like something that was unfashionable; the dismissive attitude of a lot of fine art people to ceramics actually inspired me."
4. The artist used to squat with Boy George and Stephen Jones in the 1980s when Perry was a young struggling artist. The three friends would each compete to see who could dress in the most outrageous outfits.
5. The Grayson Perry Project at Central St Martins (2004) was a project for second year design students, which saw them conceive, design, print and make an outfit for Claire, over a five-week period. The project has now been running for ten years, with Perry explaining to The Guardian: "Not only am I tutor, muse and
model, but client, too. The project works well because I am a real customer. Every year, I buy up to 14 outfits for £500 each.” "I say to them, make me something that I would be embarrassed to wear. I challenge you to do it! And they try their hardest, bless them. I get some superb outfits out of it, I really do."
6. Sketch books are dense records of the artist’s creative process. Grayson tells The Economist, “Sketch books are the most talismanic objects in my artistic life. I carry them around with me most of the time. They’re a very detailed record of what goes through my head – part research, part diary. I usually take more than a year to fill one. By that time they’re incredibly dense documents. They have this layered, palimpsest quality. One thing about sketchbooks is that you can’t really display them well. I quite like that. As you become more successful, you get what I call Picasso Napkin Syndrome, where every little mark you make becomes a licence to print money. A sketch book is difficult to commodify so it means that you’re not self-consciously making an asset class.”
7. Grayson Perry has been decorated with multiple awards for his contribution to the arts. Most notably the 2003 winner the Turner Prize which raised his profile in the art world. Then in 2005, the artist was awarded the Royal Television Society award for best network production for ‘Why Men Wear Frocks’. Perry was also awarded the Visual Arts award, South Bank Sky Arts Awards, for ‘The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman’ at the British Museum. He has also been appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2013 Birthday Honours for services to contemporary art.
8. Perry has a great love of motorbikes which he says are a huge part of the his identity and life. “I’ve got four at the moment. This is the broken head of a valve stem of a BMW R90 from 1979. When I first met my wife at pottery evening classes in 1987, she’d never been on the back of a motorbike before. I was trying to impress her. I thought I’d take her for a ride one evening after class. I drove her up the M11 on the BMW and the engine seized at about 80 miles an hour, so I whipped in the clutch and rolled to the hard shoulder. The valve had hit the piston and snapped off. We ended up pushing the motorbike about five miles back down the M11 in the pouring rain. My wife still regards that as one of the most romantic evenings of our lives. When I rebuilt the engine I kept the valve head as a souvenir.”
9. In 2010 the etching ‘Print for a Politician’, was aptly purchased by the government for £14,000 – one of the most expensive items on the government’s art collection list. It was purchased by previous chancellor the exchequer George Osbourne who apparently had the artwork hanging in his office.
10. Grayson Perry is also a successful documentary maker. “Why Men Wear Frocks” saw Perry presenting a documentary on Channel 4, in which he examined transvestism and masculinity at the start of the 21st century. Perry talked about his own life as a transvestite and the effect it had on him and his family, frankly discussing its difficulties and pleasures.
“All In The Best Possible Taste With Grayson Perry” was another Channel 4 documentary series. The 2012 series analysed ideas of taste across the classes in the UK, exploring the culture and people’s buying habits in three parts: ”Working Class Taste," "Middle Class Taste," and "Upper Class Taste”. After which he transcribed his findings from these three groups into large tapestries.
His most recent doc-series was “Rites of Passage”, in which Perry explored the landmark events in all of our lives – birth, coming of age, marriage and death – and tried to reinvent them for our modern secular age. Travelling the world for inspiration, he spends time with communities in the Amazon, Indonesia and Japan to see how they treat these great moments. Back home Perry collaborates with British families to devise ceremonies to mark a genuine milestone in their lives.
During the current pandemic, Perry is presenting “Grayson's Art Club” from his home studio, encouraging viewers to produce and share their own artworks from lockdown.
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