Take time – photograph the invisible

A little old doggy hiding under the coffee table.
A little old doggy hiding under the coffee table.
Iris-film-poster-2015There’s been a delightful buzz and critical acclaim for the documentary film ‘Iris’. It is refreshing, no, it’s actually amazing to see that a film has been made about a 93 year old lady. Iris Apfel is an eccentric, New York born interior designer not only renowned for her work, but also famous for her personal style of outsized glasses and exceedingly bold accessories. I was hoping to go and see this film at a cinema, but despite living in a large English county popular with folks for their retirement not one cinema will be screening this film! All I can guess is that the film distributers decided nobody would be interested. It is available ‘on demand’, but a film showcasing such a vivid character with many shots of vibrant textiles, almost psychedelic outfits and rich interiors would be so much more enjoyable on a big screen.

My mother an older, but glamorous granny.
My mother an older, but glamorous granny.
Of course, it’s easy to criticise and it made me think more generally of how we visually represent older women and on the whole we don’t. Apart from the Queen (90 next year) and those sweet, fluffy grannies beaming out from residential/care home brochures, pictures of women over 70 years old in the wider media are notable by their absence. In an era when there have never been more photographs taken and every third image is somebody’s selfie why do we have this absence? Here’s hoping following the return of ‘The Great British Bake Off’ this week with the fabulous Mary Berry (80 years old) back on the telly, other active, articulate, interesting elderly women will become visible.

Sadly and guiltily, I have to admit when scanning through the many photographs I took during the last family get togethers before my mother died, I’d only photographed the children and the dogs, but fortunately my teenage daughter took a few snaps of her granny.

Photographing the invisible too late, the gap left by my mother.
Photographing the invisible too late, the gap left by my mother.
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A Little Extra – The Grayson Perry Tapestries at the RA

In a previous post I mentioned in passing that at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition you could also see a sequence of tapestries by Grayson Perry.

NFS. Wool, cotton, acrylic, polyester and silk tapestry. 200 x 400cm. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London © Grayson Perry. Photography © Stephen White. Royal Academy of Arts from the RA Image of the Day Pinterest.
NFS. Wool, cotton, acrylic, polyester and silk tapestry. 200 x 400cm. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London © Grayson Perry. Photography © Stephen White. Royal Academy of Arts from the RA Image on Pinterest.

Of course Grayson Perry is well-known for ceramics (his pots) for which he won the Turner Prize in 2003, but these tapestries are a change of medium rather than content. They exhibit a continuation of his challenging often acidic, social commentary in a visual form. I loved them. I had already seen the television programmes ‘All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry’ that documented his artistic process and I was thrilled to see the finished tapestries. In these works he is visually dissecting the relationship between people’s taste and their class.

The Adoration of the Cage Fighters. NFS. Wool, cotton, acrylic, polyester and silk tapestry. 200 x 400cm. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London © Grayson Perry. From www.artfund.org
The Adoration of the Cage Fighters. NFS. Wool, cotton, acrylic, polyester and silk tapestry. 200 x 400cm. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London © Grayson Perry. From http://www.artfund.org

The series called ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’, is hanging round Room X at the Royal Academy. We see six large tapestries that make a clear reference to Hogarth’s ‘A Rake’s Progress’- indeed, the protagonist in Perry’s work is called Tim Rakewell. The concept, research, working sketches and the final production of the tapestries form the four part television series.

Detail from 'The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal'.
Detail from ‘The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal’.

The size of tapestries (two metres by four metres), their vibrant colour, together with the exquisite detail and totemic elements included for each depiction of the ‘progress’, were both visually stunning and frequently amusing – well they do say the British are obsessed with class. It is quite a few centuries (despite the sincere efforts of William Morris) since tapestry was considered to be ‘the’ medium for conspicuous consumption and that of itself is precisely why this series, in this woven form, is so acute.

If you can’t get to the RA then . . .

In The Best Possible Taste on Channel 4.

Alternatively or additionally the Arts Council Collection has launched an app for iPad and iPhone produced by Aimer Media with commentary from the artist, art historical references and a guide to the making of the works. This is Grayson Perry’s first app and gives users the chance to see the tapestries up close with detailed zoom facility. The digital guide, Grayson Perry: The Vanity of Small Differences, is available from Apple’s iTunes Store (£1.99).

And, finally, Grayson Perry is to give this year’s Reith Lectures. The lectures will be broadcast in October and November as part of BBC Radio 4’s celebration of arts and culture in 2013.