From 4 November 2017 – 4 February 2018 the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool is hosting the exhibition ‘Making Himself Claire: Grayson Perry’s Dresses’. Regular readers of this Blog will know I am a big fan of Grayson Perry and his work. And, Claire is a force of nature.
The Exhibition is displaying ensembles designed by students of Central St Martins for this world-famous, cross-dressing artist as well as outfits designed by Grayson Perry himself.
A friend of mine recently went along and took some photos to share with me as I can’t get to Liverpool to see these fabulous, outrageous creations.
The Exhibition is taking place in the Craft and Design Gallery of the Walker Art Gallery.
There is a perennial question ‘Is it art or is it craft?’ that bothers some folk, but I think we can say that both in his Turner Prize winning work, and, his personal expression as Claire, it is all first rate visual culture with no need for post-medieval boundaries.
For special occasions and celebrations many folk like to stay somewhere a little different, unique, historical or even perhaps theatrical, and now, added to the list of interesting residences available to let, there is ‘A House for Essex’ by Grayson Perry. This house is a fusion of art and architecture commissioned by Living Architecture and built into existence from the collaboration of Grayson Perry with the architect Charles Holland of FAT Architects. Grayson Perry says of the house,
“It’s an ornate, terracotta covered temple and it’s by far the biggest artwork I’ll ever get to make.”
This three year collaborative process was made into a television documentary where Perry’s original drawings (more like illustrations for ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’ with a twist of Gaudí) become a breathtaking holiday home. Clips of the house can be seen on YouTube during a three minute news item interviewing Grayson Perry. Plus, if you’d like to see more fascinating photos including shots of the interiors visit ‘A House for Essex‘.
“There’s a story behind its creation and it’s even more bonkers than you thought!” muses Perry.
It turns out the house is a kind of autobiography and at the same time a biography of a fictional woman called Julie May Cope. It is also a 21st century shrine to Julie and mining her imagined everyday life provides much of the content of this artwork and its overall tone. It is an “Essex Taj Mahal” says Perry and he remarks
“The house is devoted to a fictional Essex everywoman.”
There is much to admire about this building. Ornate and ornamented it is the antithesis to the spare, ‘less is more’ contemporary architectural sensibility which dominates much of our recently built more innovative buildings. I think it is exciting that this chapel-like structure with its bold elaborate external finish passed the planning committee and got built in Essex. The polychromy and the almost Romanesque Revival semicircular arched windows reminds me of some of the grander Victorian buildings such as the Natural History Museum in London.
As an artist famous for his pots, tapestries and sculptures it is no surprise that his dream house is expressed as a combination of bas relief ceramic tiles, sculptural adornments and narrative wall hangings. For example all the tiles have been manufactured from Perry’s original clay work and it is in the detail of these designs and the art filled interior that his story of Julie is told.
Personally, I don’t see any issues with such an unusual building as Julie’s House adorning this part of rural Essex. The local setting is not just wheatfields and the River Stour, but in the background is Parkeston Quay, Harwich and across the other side of the estuary is the Port of Felixstowe, the UK’s busiest container port. I am a little biased about this part of the world as the river/estuary area from Manningtree down to the North Sea is one of my favourite places. But, the one aspect of the house that I do find disappointing is that it is essentially inward-looking. You look at the house almost as a discrete isolated whole and not at it within it’s setting. And, then inside, the whole artwork interior appears to encourage a confined engagement leading to contemplation and reflection. No overt connection is made with the external environment and, sadly, there’s no enormous panoramic window framing the glorious Stour Estuary. I suppose as a chapel-like building focussing inwards is appropriate, but perhaps a wayside chapel sited on a road into an Essex town would have made for a more believable backdrop for this ‘story house’ art. However, who wants to spend their celebration weekend on the busy A120 trunk road into Colchester!
Last night I watched the artist Grayson Perry’s new series ‘Who are you?’ documenting his creative process as he makes portraits. I use the word ‘makes’ instead of the more familiar ‘paints’ as although he starts by sketching the individual first, only one of the finished artworks was a traditional painting. Together with a painted miniature he produced portraits that were a Benin style bronze, a pot and a silk scarf (a hijab). ‘Who are you’ as the title suggests is a series about identity. That is identity as perceived in our 21st-century lives and mediated through visual culture.
It was a fascinating programme as he chatted to and quizzed each sitter in an attempt to understand the multiple layers that they melded together in forming their identity. Grayson commented that when an artist works on a portrait he is part detective and part psychologist in his quest to capture the sitter in a single image. He opines that if successful a portrait “tells you something a 1000 selfies never could”. Now, we have a problem here with the format. I hugely admire Grayson Perry, I think he is a gifted visual interpreter and an extremely intelligent and astute individual, but the moment he as the artist starts to work with a camera crew on his shoulder his subjects begin to morph into a hybrid TV version of themselves. I know we are getting into a philosophical area, but if we are considering the nature of identity then surely we have to acknowledge the effect of being observed. Isn’t one of the points of a selfie that it is a version of you by you at a given moment and not you knowingly mediated by Grayson Perry, by a cameraman, by the TV production company and Channel 4?
Interestingly, the one sitter that was most resistant to revealing any other aspect of himself other than his public image was the disgraced politician, Chris Huhne. I thought that his obviously posed and considered domestic styling contrasted so sentimentally with the roadside cafe shots after his release from prison that it had me reaching for the sick bucket. In his response to Huhne’s incredible self regard, Grayson constructs him as a beautiful, slickly glazed pot. Then in a grand, dramatic televisual moment he purposefully smashes the pot into pieces. The finished portrait is actually the reconstructed pot restored in the Kintsugi tradition where restoration is overtly visible displaying the gold repair/fracture lines. Flawed – need we say more!
Of course, a portrait is acknowledged as a construction of the artist usually in collaboration with the sitter. A multiplicity of choices concerning materials, format, lighting, clothing, setting, pose, full-length etc are considered before the first brush stroke marks the canvas. Additionally, there is the interpretation of self by the sitter whether they are aware or unaware of what they are projecting and then how this is recorded by the artist. Will it be a ‘warts and all’ representation? Any cursory glance at the output of a class of art students all producing a portrait of the same sitter will see as many different versions as there are artists in the class.
We have Grayson’s portraits of his subjects and you can go and see them at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The works will now have a life of their own detached from the television and now installed into a prestigious gallery setting. Identity and portraiture has a long history since the Roman emperors had their ‘heads’ stamped on coins. Our portrait formally rendered as an image of us may capture more than a selfie, but our identity is fluid and even the best portrait does not tell the whole story of our identity.
Grayson Perry delivered his fourth and final Reith Lecture this morning, I Found Myself in the Art World and it was another fine entertaining, but this time more poignant reflection on the nature of being an artist in the Contemporary Art World. During the course of the lecture he drew our attention again to the playful creativity of children and how an artist strives to nurture yet protect that core of their psyche where serious play generates art.
Grayson Perry continued that artists’ works often express some difficulties they have had in their lives. He suggested that the creative process allows them to work through significant transformational events in the act of producing their art. A process that is recognised by some artists as they overtly use these events. However, other artists are psychologically unaware of these experiences, but still nevertheless they are the engine of their artistic production. He continued that this need to express oneself was not confined to the professional artist, but was evident in ‘outsider art’ such as that of the Chicago janitor, Henry Darger, and Prehistoric Art such as the cave paintings of early humans.
Perhaps, we should also include amateur art in this discussion as although certainly not an asset class, for the artist the work is a valuable vehicle for creative expression and its production is often of psychological benefit.
As with the other lectures in this series an interesting little titbit came out during the final Q&A. A Central St Martin’s student asked about career prospects for a young artist and Grayson replied that it was always good to have a plan B. When quizzed about his own plan B, Grayson said he thought that he would have gone into advertising on the visual design side. As I was listening I thought how interesting and what a coincidence as today, 5 November, is the birthday of Raymond Loewy.
Raymond Loewy Designer’s branding Artist’s signature?
Loewy porcelain designs for Rosenthal. 1950s
Loewy porcelain designs for Rosenthal. 1950s
Grayson Perry had quoted Loewy, a great industrial designer and graphic artist, in his third lecture when contemplating the challenge of the avant-garde. He had mentioned the Loewy principle, MAYA, “most advanced yet acceptable” when discussing a new artist’s offering to the art world and in a way this reflects Grayson’s own challenge to the art world when he made POTS.
22 November 2013 -ADDITIONAL INTERESTING COMMENTARY regarding the impact of Grayson Perry and his art from the Historian Prof. Lisa Jardine
Delivering his third talk in the Reith Lecture series, Grayson Perry contemplates whether contemporary art still has the power to shock. He delivers his lecture called ‘Nice Rebellion, Welcome In!’ in a lively, entertaining style with no stuffiness, but don’t be fooled he is seriously questioning the importance of sincerity in our postmodern, ironic world. Available to listen to at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03f9bg7
Drawing on his own experience Grayson Perry recounts how he found the world of 1980s postmodernism had already been there and done it all. The art world’s relentless quest for the new, innovative, cutting edge idea had used up ‘shock’ and negated its power. Anything could be art and nothing could shock anymore. Grayson suggests even the lifestyle of the artist has been democratised and incorporated into everyday living, all kinds of people are bobos. That is ordinary folk that now have a little bit of bohemian-ness about them. Bobos is short for bourgeois and bohemian (coined by David Brooks in 2000 in his book ‘Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There). Grayson mused that, “Since the 1960s everyone’s become a bit of an artist”.
Of his own debut into the world of contemporary art Grayson Perry had wanted to shock and had wanted to announce, “You’re the old people who made rusty metal sculptures we are the new people who are making this sort of work!”, but it had all been done. Talking of rusty metal, Richard Serra springs to mind and particularly for me, as by chance, my sister and I looked around ‘Fulcrum’ a couple of weeks ago. Richard Serra has been disturbing space and us with his enormous rusting steel sculptures since the early 1970s. His site-specific work nowadays may still be called challenging and is sometimes controversial due its sheer size, in this case 55 feet/16.8 metres of rusting steel, but it does not shock. More of Serra’s smaller scale work can be seen at http://www.saatchigallery.com/aipe/richard_serra.htm
Through the course of the lecture Grayson Perry develops the idea that art is in its end game and although there will always be new work it is only ‘tweaking’ a past idea. And, he suggests that what will separate out the good artist will not be all the postmodern knowing and cynicism attached to their work, but the artist’s sincere intent in its creation. Finally, as a parting shot Grayson commented that a contemporary art work could possibly shock by being beautiful!
Here are a couple of pieces of ageing metal, both functional, one’s a flagpole and one’s a hot water cylinder. Beautiful? Art?
One of the three Leopardi bronze flagpoles in St Mark’s Square, Venice. c.1505
In his second Reith lecture, called ‘Beating the Bounds’, Grayson Perry takes us on a whistle-stop tour round the parish bounds of contemporary art. This half hour talk delivered in his provocative yet playful style discusses the question – can anything be called art? It is available to listen to at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03dsk4d.
Grayson Perry explains that through the course of the twentieth century the boundaries of art have expanded rapidly from the time of Duchamp (‘Fountain’ 1917, a found, mass produced urinal) to include pretty much anything. A shark in a tank – if I say so. A sleeping Tilda Swinton in a glass box – if I say so. Well, it is art if Damien Hirst and Cornelia Parker say it is. But, Grayson Perry, himself a conceptual artist, suggests that everything is not art and there are boundaries even if they are porous, ill-defined and flexible. In his entertaining lecture he lists a number of markers to consider. For example, who created the work, where is the work situated both in the physical world and the art historical context, why was the work created and what is the audience engagement and response.
As with his first lecture he embellishes his points with significant and contemporary examples which are fascinating and often amusing. He wants to make contemporary art more accessible and less intimidating to the non-specialist audiences. A more personal insight into Grayson Perry’s own approach to the process of creation was glimpsed during the brief Q&A at the end of the lecture. A member of the audience enquired about the nature of creativity quoting Picasso saying, “All children are artists, the problem is keeping them artists”. Grayson replied that there were good child artists and bad child artists and credited children with relaxed, spontaneous and free expression, but nevertheless it is creative expression without self-awareness. He suggested that to make art the maker cannot be an innocent. However, the very state of being self-conscious brings pressure. He mused, “I can tell you from personal experience, that, the more successful you become the more pressure there is of self-consciousness, and how I would love to be that little child with a box of Lego bricks again.” He suggests that to be a contemporary artist the artist needs to be aware of art’s history, that art works have both aesthetic and financial value in the art world and that these works have audiences. Furthermore once set free from the artist, audiences will ultimately engage with and respond to these creations subjectively. Of his own response to art Grayson said he is old fashioned and that what is important for him is he can go and see and touch ‘the real thing’.
Below I have selected three images. Each is an example of a ‘type’ mentioned by Grayson. Just glance at these three images out of context and decide which one you think is art. Then click on each for more information, but still be subjective – draw your own conclusion!
Painted wooden mask – Indigenous peoples c.2000 Art or not?
Winnard 1995 Pastel on paper (Marks by two year old child)
Sorry, not really a fair question as they should all be excellent versions of their type and they are not. But speaking subjectively (and that is very subjectively) I think two of the three examples are very nearly the best of their type!
The Chelmsford Sissies by Grayson Perry. Earthenware height: 65cm; diameter: 39cm at the Chelmsford Museum and the Essex Regiment Museum.
The Great Pot of Bicknacre, Grayson Perry. Glazed earthenware 14 x 12½in. (35.5 x 31.8cm.) Executed in 1995 sold at Christie’s London 2004 for £31,070
This morning the BBC broadcast the first of this year’s Reith Lectures on Radio 4. Traditionally, the Reith Lectures are given by a well-known and leading figure in a specific field tackling a prominent and contemporary issue within that field. There is an extensive archive of past series of lectures available on the BBC website.
This year’s series, “Playing to the Gallery”, is given by the Turner Prize winning artist Grayson Perry. (A previous post of mine discusses his ‘Hogarthian’ tapestry series.)
As an artist making contemporary pieces that carry subversive messages Grayson Perry uses the traditional craft forms of pottery or tapestry. His work is both popular and highly respected. Proposed with some glee as well as seriousness, he sets out to answer the significant question of who validates art. It is the theme for his first lecture called, “Democracy Has Bad Taste”. The lecture is a half hour talk with a 15 minute Q&A at the end. It is an easy listen as Grayson Perry fluently and amusingly covers the interrelationship between the different groups, artists, dealers, collectors, curators, media commentators and the public that make up the received consensus.
During the lecture he mentions painting and sculpture, but also discusses the significance of ‘found’ art (objet trouvé – Marcel Duchamp) and also the rise of performance art. He admits to bringing an autobiographical overview to the questions he poses and divulges his preference as a school boy for Victorian Narrative art such as works by Frith.
But a surprising insight into what Grayson Perry personally values now as ‘great art’ was revealed in the Q&A when Art Historian and Tate Trustee, David Ekserdjian, asked, “If we could give you as a present, a work of art, what would you take?” Interestingly, he chose a sixteenth-century painting, Bruegel’s ‘Procession to Calvary’.
Grayson then quipped, “You could probably get a tea towel of it, it’s that popular!”
Actually, the first image on my Google search for Bruegel’s ‘The Procession to Calvery’ 1564, was not a tea towel, but a T shirt for $24.99.
Little note – I have to admit to being especially interested when I read reports of Grayson Perry discussing various aspects of his young life in Essex. He spent some time living in a small village called Bicknacre (hence the name of the pot – top right) and I grew up in Bicknacre’s adjoining village, Danbury.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Last weekend I was in London and had time to visit this year’s Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy. I’ve been a few times before, but not recently and it was heartening to see they don’t seem to have crammed in the work quite so ferociously as they did in the deep dark past.
But still some rooms have such densely packed walls that it is difficult to extract the wheat from the chaff.
With the usual restrictions on photographing exhibitions I have found that The Economist’s Culture Blog has a small gallery of the show which gives a good overall impression.
Now, it is very easy to be swept along by other people’s views especially where ‘art’ is concerned, but in the end you are the only viewer in your head and so your personal opinion is your personal opinion. I make a point of not reading reviews before I go to an exhibition, a performance or even a film – I try to go in a state of openness to a new experience, but I am also aware that I bring my own prejudices. Sometimes it is virtually impossible to avoid the great and the good giving us the benefit of their wisdom when an event is endlessly trailed and heavily promoted. However, this time I’d missed all the usual fuss associated with Summer Exhibition and arrived early with catalogue and pen ready.
First impressions, well lit, light in feel and light in content. This painting bucked the trend. Neither of these photographs do the central picture justice. It is a striking oil by Jock McFadyen RA called Tate Moss. It is quite large, it even felt large in a spacious gallery room, and shows a derelict, industrial warehouse with graffiti. Despite its sombre theme the blues and green lighten the impression and I could see it gracing the boardroom of a FTSE 100 Company to remind the directors of their own business mortality.
I don’t normally speak to strangers (I am very English), but I had just written a brief note about a grouped set of canvasses when I heard the stern comment ‘Derivative’ as the man in front of me turned to his companion. He glanced at me seeing my smile and I explained I’ve literally just noted ‘quite derivative’. “Absolutely” he barked and left for the next room, thinking about it I hope he wasn’t the artist, a well-known RA, – he did look the right age.
Don’t you think that a work of art selected for such a prestigious show as the Summer Exhibition should step out from the banal and the mundane and agitate some kind of response in the viewer? Maybe more of these pieces achieve this when viewed alone or in a less art-filled environment. I thought this ‘Little Blue Pinocchio’ stepped out (actually almost out of the frame) despite being hung high on the top row – also visible in the second photo above.
Walking through the galleries I was struck by the overall paleness/monochrome nature of the show as if the low key presentation was attuned to the general art mood (there have been many cuts to art organisations’ budgets). The most striking of the monochrome works was a series of large ink drawings consisting of three studies of Icelandic geological features, by Emma Stibbon RA. Again, the photograph does not do justice to the work as in real life the scale and detail combine to generate an intense yet restrained visual impact.
But as usual, and it is always the way, the most stunning and interesting work – the one for me anyway – (other than the splendid Grayson Perry tapestries) had no reproductions available. It was No.580 an acrylic with gloss by Gulcehre Ciplak called ‘The Long List, You Are On It Too!’. It depicts a dining table with unused, empty plates and three turkeys wearing collars and ties staring indignantly directly out at you. The direct gaze is challenging and seems to say ‘What are YOU going to do about this?’
OCTOBER 2013 – update if you want to see Gulcehre Ciplak’s fascinating painting she has now uploaded a photo to her website
If you are in London and have a spare couple of hours then I recommend a visit not least to see the grand finale of the Grayson Perry tapestries. The exhibition is on until 18 August 2013.