Grayson Perry is a contemporary English artist known mostly for his ceramic vases, which have classical form and brightly coloured decoration. These classical lines and colourful depictions are at odds with the subject matter. Perry is a well-known cross dresser and his alter ego Claire is often the focus of his work. A recipient of the Turner prize in 2003, Perry was born in Chelmsford, Essex on 24th March 1960.
Perry’s early life was impacted by the departure of his father when he was seven years old, perhaps influencing the strong autobiographical element in his works. His childhood saw an interest grow in drawing and also constructing model aeroplanes, both elements were to become part of his portfolio. As a retreat from family life where an abusive and violent stepfather was a figure, Perry used fantasy as an escape and refuge. A teddy bear named Alan Measles was his comfort and father figure during this difficult childhood.
A conventional school life saw Perry adopt the usual interests of teenager hood of girls, motorcycles and his beloved model aeroplanes. In the late 1970’s he became involved with the punk rock scene in Chelmsford. The artist attended the Braintree College of Further Education and then moved on to obtain a degree in Fine Art at Portsmouth Polytechnic.
The early 1980’s saw Perry move to London where he lived in a squat, attended evening classes in pottery, became part of a neo-naturist movement, appearing in film and performance works.
During his attendance at evening classes, Perry developed a real connection with the medium. His love for clay he says is due to its low esteem in the art world. Gradually, his vases took the art world by storm with classical shapes that could have emerged form any of the classical periods, with the most ornate glazes and colours. They would grace any table or display. Drawing closer to the subject matter of the vases however, the dark recesses of his life and topics such as child abuse, cultural stereotypes, and depictions of alter ego Claire leave the beholder stunned with imagery unexpected.
These dark depictions from his innermost recesses became the focus of a set of works that won him the Turner prize in 2003. His combination of incised, crude graffiti, transfers, lustres, drawings, slip painting, and glazes almost seal in the turmoil beneath and leave the beholder breathless. Typical works bear titles such as Prozac Millionaires; We Are What We Buy and Boring Cool People.
With Claire his alter ego, he has possibly created something of a mother figure in the same way he created the fantasy of a father figure with Alan Measles. Claire, who Perry describes as a cross between Katie Boyle and Camilla Parker-Bowles, describes a strong female figure with an underlying current of domestic bliss even though he says Claire cannot sew a button or cook more than a ready meal. Observers say that Claire is almost performance art in her own right.
Happily married Perry worries about school fees and building studios in the countryside, which seems at odds with his tortured muses. He seems fascinated with the trappings of class and our comfort within those cultural stereotypes.
Perry’s hard-hitting, exquisite work, which includes sculpture, embroidery, prints, pots and drawing also embrace broader issues than his own darker side engaging with religion, politics, war and sex. Recently, Perry’s tapestry series, The Vanity of Small Differences, says so much about how class and politics define the way we decorate houses and dress ourselves. This theme was also subject of his BAFTA award winning documentary series All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry, a real blast of class consciousness.
The tapestry series, digitally produced by looms use humour to depict anxiety, joy, and loss in scenarios that most can relate with.
Keeping with the tapestry theme The Walthamstow Tapestry is a huge Jaquard decorated with hundreds of different brand names. It measures 15 metres by 3 metres. Inspired by his keenness for early 20th century Sumatran batik, the tapestry is read form left to right depicting the seven ages of man from birth to death. There are tiny images among the brand names relating to other life matters a world where children talk into mobile phones, discarded litter, mothers pushing prams and suicide bombers ready to detonate.
Grayson Perry’s work is thought provoking with a beauty that unravels into layers, deconstructing into salient elements of modern day life.