This week, Brighton welcomes Grayson Perry to the Dome, for A Show All About You, in which he discusses his exploration of identity and all it encompasses.
A true storyteller, Perry’s social commentary, autobiographical revelations, and unique knack for getting to the heart of what makes us tick, have made him a national treasure. In everything he does, whether it’s limited edition art prints, enormous tapestries, ceramics or documentaries, his work explores important matters of identity, gender, religion, class and more, educating and enlightening everyone who experiences it in the process.
As we welcome him to Brighton, in no particular order, here are our favourite moments from the illustrious career of Turner Prize-winner and now Knight Bachelor, Sir Grayson Perry.
Grayson’s Art Club
One of our favourite Grayson Perry projects was his lockdown TV series, Grayson’s Art Club, which embodied the Enter Gallery ethos of making art accessible to all.
During lockdown, Perry and his wife, Philippa, brought art to the nation in this weekly show, in which he made new artworks inspired by the times we were living in, such as his piece, England As Seen From Lockdown.
Perry welcomed celebrity guests, setting them different briefs each week to get their creative juices flowing. The artist also set viewers and anyone who wanted to get involved a different theme every episode and hosted masterclasses designed to ignite their creativity and to hopefully inspire them to pick up a pen or paintbrush.
Winning the Turner Prize
While he’s known for working in multiple mediums, Perry’s ceramics are what first captured the world’s attention. Perry’s pots aren’t just beautifully-made, he also uses them as a canvas for commenting on society’s deepest flaws.
Over the years, Perry has used his ceramics to highlight issues and tell stories, releasing pieces with provocative titles such as We’ve Found the Body of Your Child which deals with child abuse, I Hate You, I Hate Myself, featuring women tied up in various poses, and Memory Jar, a vase covered in photographs of a married couple, one of whom had been diagnosed with dementia. Speaking of his ceramics and the topics covered, Perry stated:
“If I did something purely decorative, and I’ve approached that line a few times where I’ve looked at pieces and thought, ‘That’s pretty’, but it’s like potatoes without salt. I can’t stomach it.”
In 2003, Perry became the first ceramicist to win the prestigious Turner Prize. He accepted the award dressed as Little Bo Peep and joked: "It is about time a transvestite potter won."
The Grayson Perry Project
If you follow Perry, you’ll know that he regularly appears in public dressed as his alter-ego, Claire, who he describes as, "a fortysomething woman living in a Barratt home, the kind of woman who eats ready meals and can just about sew on a button."
Photo: Claire Pål Hanson
Back in 2004, in his role of Chancellor of the University of the Arts London, which includes Central St Martins and the London College of Fashion, Perry launched the Grayson Perry Project, in which he challenges the students to create outfits for Claire. As part of the brief, Perry encourages the young designers to make the outfits, “as bizarre and exciting as they can.”
As well as buying many of the finished results for his wardrobe, Perry has also hosted exhibitions and auctions showcasing the outfits, shining a light on exciting up-and-coming designers.
The Reith Lectures
Perry was the first visual artist to be asked to deliver BBC4’s prestigious Reith Lectures. In a series of three talks, one of which was recorded live, Perry examined the art world with his trademark sense of empathy and wit.
In the lectures, Perry takes us into thought-provoking terrain, asking whether anything and everything can be deemed ‘art’ nowadays, and who is really fit to judge whether an artwork is good or not.
The series of lectures gives you a glimpse into the artist’s charisma and asks interesting questions that help us to understand the world of contemporary art through the eyes of someone who has truly experienced the industry.
One element of Perry’s character that never fails to shine through is the genuine curiosity and lack of judgement he displays when speaking to people, regardless of their walk of life.
This inherent warmth has led to a number of TV shows and documentaries which seek to help us identify our similarities in a world that seems increasingly divided.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen Perry explore rites of passage around the world, traverse the US in 2020 to investigate race, class and identity in his Big American Road Trip, and explore what Englishness means today in Full English.
Back in 2013, Perry won a BAFTA for Best Specialist Factual Programme for All In The Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry, which looked at the tastes of different social classes in the UK, and "why people buy the things they buy, wear the things they wear and what they are trying to say about themselves when they make these choices."
The series saw Perry produce one of his most famous series’ of work, The Vanity of Small Differences, which depicted the tastes of working class, middle class and upper class Britons in Sunderland, Tunbridge Wells and The Cotswolds.
The Invention of Julie Cope
Over the years, Perry has created many works of art inspired by Julie Cope – his fictional Essex everywoman, through which he explores ‘the trials, tribulations, celebrations and mistakes of an average life’.
To create this body of work, Perry has mapped out every detail of her life from her birth during the Canvey Island floods of 1953 to her untimely death on a street in Colchester when she is struck by a food delivery driver on a moped.
Via his Six Snapshots of Julie series and The Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope, Perry reflects on the economic, educational and aspirational shifts experienced by the Baby Boomer Generation.
Julie’s narrative, one of Perry’s most ambitious, arose as a collaboration with FAT Architects for Living Architecture, and saw the artist turns his talents to designing a house.
This property actually makes up the final piece of Julie’s life story: after finding true love later in life and marrying her second husband, Rob, he vowed during a trip to the Taj Mahal (pictured above) that if she died before him, he’d build a monument to Julie and to their love.
Julie’s house now sits on the banks of the River Stour in Essex. It is full of art portraying the story of her life, and the history of Essex. Guests can even stay the night!
Open Exploration of Masculinity and Sexuality
One thing that makes Perry such a popular and respected public figure is his honest depictions and revelations about his inner world. Since his first job as a life model, Perry has always been one to lay himself bare, being honest about his experiences and using his art to explore the meaning of masculinity, class, sexuality and more.
Perry has openly spoken about his childhood with an abusive step father, and how that forced him to turn to his imagination for comfort. It was while hiding from his step father that Perry cross-dressed for the first time, and where he created the narrative for his childhood teddy bear, Alan Measles – who features in many pieces, such as Sponsored By You, and is described by Perry as a, "surrogate father, rebel leader, fighter, pilot and undefeated racing driver."
In his book, Portrait of an Artist as a Young Girl, Perry talks about his early explorations of his sexuality, dressing up as a woman, and what draws him to it. Perry reveals: “I just love dressing up in everything a man is supposed not to be, in all that vulnerability, sweetness, preciousness and impracticality.”
Perry explored this in Channel 4 documentary, Why Men Wear Frocks, in which he spoke candidly about his own experiences, and how he reconciles the cross-dressing aspect of his personality with his roles as a husband, father and artist.
In his series, All Man, Perry explored contemporary masculinity by meeting different men around the UK. This led to best-selling book, The Descent of Man, in which he challenges outdated notions of masculinity with candour and wit, opening the door for all men to do the same.
To finish, let us leave you with these wise words from Perry, the perfect inspiration for us all to take a leaf out of his book, and embrace who we truly are…
“We’re only here once and I want to get as much out of it possible. And as an artist, my job is to be as much ‘me’ as possible.”
Explore Enter Gallery’s selection of Grayson Perry artworks.