If you’re familiar with the UK contemporary art scene – or even if you’re not – it’s impossible not to know about Grayson Perry. From his many TV documentaries to his crossdressing and alter ego Claire, Perry is a colourful, outspoken and much-loved British national treasure. He’s also a celebrated and renowned Turner Prize winning contemporary artist with many of his works housed at Tate Britain and the V&A. Perry has also hosted a variety of shows for Channel 4, using this platform to explore prejudices surrounding masculinity, class and sexuality.
As a contemporary artist, Perry is best known for his ceramics, printed tapestries and design for A House for Essex. Much of his work is autobiographical, chronicling a troubled childhood, and often features his alter ego, Claire. Let’s take a little tour into the wonderful world of Grayson Perry.
Perry was born into a working-class family and was just four years old when his father left the family home. From this age, his childhood was an unhappy one, spent bouncing between his parents – it was during this time that Perry created a fantasy world around his teddy as a way of coping with his anxiety.
His creative mind began to be fully harnessed when he decided to study for an art foundation course at Braintree College of Further Education between 1978 and 1979. He then went on to study for a BA in fine art at Portsmouth College of Art and Design as it was known at the time – it’s now the University of Portsmouth.
Following his graduation, Perry was living in squats in central London and joined a group started by the artist Christine Binnie. The Neo Naturalists, as they were called, had the mission of reviving the “true sixties spirit”. It involved living life more or less naked and occasionally manifesting it into a performance for which the main theme is body paint. After his graduation, Perry also enrolled in an evening pottery course, and it took him only a year until he was creating his signature vases. In 2003, he became the first ceramist to win the Turner Prize.
Perry enjoyed wearing women’s clothes from an early age and when he was 15 and living with his father in Chelmsford, he would often go out dressed as a woman. He continues to frequently appear in public dressed as a woman and describes his alter ego, Claire, as "a 19th century reforming matriarch, a middle-England protester for No More Art, an aero-model-maker, or an Eastern European Freedom Fighter". His critically-acclaimed book, the Descent of Man, was released in 2016 – calling attention to how rigid masculinity can destroy society.
He said of his work: “I draw as a collagist, juxtaposing images and styles of mark-making from many sources. The world I draw is the interior landscape of my personal obsessions and of cultures I have absorbed and adapted, from Latvian folk art to Japanese screens.” His works are held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Tate Gallery in London, as well as many others. In 2015, he was appointed chancellor of University of the Arts London. Second year Central Saint Martins BA (Hons) Fashion students also design a dress for him every year, based on a brief written by the artist himself.
Perry is a fantastic chronicler of modern life. He comments with wit, nostalgia and great sentiment, but at times his work is bustling with fear and anger. He tackles subjects that are universally human and which continue to shape our society today – identity, gender, social status, sexuality and religion. Much of his work is also autobiographical and leans heavily on his difficult childhood.
The Walthamstow Tapestry is arguably Perry’s most famous tapestry and explores the emotional resonance of brand names in modern life and our continuing quasi-religious relationship to consumerism. It charts man’s passage from birth to death and is peppered with leading brands encountered along the way. The logos are gone and just the names remain alongside people going about their daily lives. Luxury brands including Tiffany and Louis Vuitton take their place alongside IKEA and M&S in this tale of modern-day life, inspired by Eastern European folk art and antique Malaysian batik fabrics.
Perry also created a gigantic tapestry – Comfort Blanket - which tried to capture British values to accompany a National Portrait Gallery exhibition of the Who Are You? Portraits. The Queen is featured smiling over numerous words that capture the essence of Britishness. All the classics are there, including tea, rain, Shakespeare, fair play, fish and chips, and of course, queueing.
The Who Are You? series itself featured portraits by Perry of a range of people including Rylan Clark and a young transgender man.
Of his ceramics, Perry has said: “I’m not an innovator, ceramic-wise. I use very traditional forms, techniques and it’s merely the carrier of the message. That’s how I want to keep it. But I’m always aware that it’s a pot. It’s not like I take it for granted. I’m always aware that I’m working on a vase and what that means”.
In Perry’s Golden Ghosts, he showcases idyllic country cottages in the background which contrast sharply with the unhappy expressions on the little girls’ faces – depicting those affected by the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station disaster. This work also hints at a familiarity with psychotherapy and was made at a time when Perry was coming to terms with his own unhappy past. He says: “One of the reasons I dress up as a woman is my low self-esteem, to go with the image of women being seen as second class…It is like pottery: that’s seen as a second-class thing too”. Other provocative pottery has included a vase titled We’ve Found the Body of Your Child, as well as I Hate You, I Hate Myself; All Men Are Bastards; and the Transvestite Brides of Christ.
A House for Essex was designed by Perry alongside FAT (Fashion Architecture Taste) – it’s both an artwork in itself and the setting for a number of the artist’s works exploring the special character and unique qualities of the county. The building itself has been designed to evoke the tradition of wayside and pilgrimage chapels.
Fancy owning a piece made by or inspired-by one of Britain’s most famous contemporary artists and national treasures? Now you can, with Grayson Perry artwork available from Art Republic.
This ceramic plate was developed for the Holburne Museum and forms part of a collection that also featured a mug and tea towel. It was designed exclusively for the museum in Perry’s inimitable style to celebrate the showing of his The Pre-Therapy Years collection from January 2020 to January 2021.
This sculpture shrine is a fantastic wall piece, made in steel with loose steel figures. It was released in 2017 in conjunction with the Serpentine Gallery for Perry’s solo show, The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! It’s from the edition of 50 published by the Serpentine Gallery and would be a great addition to any home contemporary art collection.
This piece is the perfect Perry-inspired artwork for your wall – ideal to bring a little colour and a knowing look to your home.
From UK artist, Michelle Mildenhall, it depicts Perry as his alter ego, Claire. Using latex as her desired medium she adds this portrait of Perry to her collection including the Queen, Frida Kahlo and Margaret Thatcher.We simply adore Grayson Perry at Art Republic, and we hope you do too. From his tapestries to his ceramics and Channel 4 documentaries, he continues to offer a critical commentary on modern life at a time when we need it most. Discover more artwork by Grayson Perry at Art Republic.