It’s not often that I wish I had a gigantic television screen, but last week was one of those rare occasions. Watching the first episode of Wolf Hall I was captivated by the lustrous beauty of so many of the shots. The creativity, knowledge and skills of all the designers (costume, interior/set and lighting) came together and gave us, the viewers, an enticing version of the Tudor elite lifestyle – as long as you kept your head! The overall impression was that displaying luxury textiles was the key to the making of a lord, his lady and their noble abode. And, of course, up until the Renaissance tapestries were the most high status wall coverings a wealthy individual could acquire.
The critical reception of ‘Wolf Hall’ has been good although a few people have moaned about the dark lighting – apparently real candlelight in some instances. I thought the lighting was superb, and as somebody who is used to photographing silk you don’t want powerful harsh artificial light. It is the soft reflection of diffuse natural light from the surface of the silk that captures its rich lustre and intense hues.
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.