Monday, 14 March 2016


I was excited when Grayson Perry’s My Pretty Little Art Career exhibit came to town. He is one of my favourite contemporary artists, with his is rejection of Duchamp-esque ploys of calling mundane objects art and weaving around them elaborate attributions of significance (interesting when first done, but its terribly old hat now – if anything the production of classical art today is far more rebellious).

Perry found his niche in the art world using the ancient medium of pottery to communicate subversive challenges to traditional politics, society and sexuality. He branched out into other traditional, generally neglected forms, such as tapestry and old-fashioned print making to continue his dissection of social customs and institutions. The trauma of Perry’s troubled childhood perpetually remerges with his fixation on images of the traditional family and family dysfunction. 

But Perry's works are also great fun to look at. Perry approaches life with a mixture of seriousness and humour. He has a great sense of the ridiculous - this is the man who received his CBE from a bemused Prince Charles dressed in an elegant women's suit and ostrich feather hat after all.

One of my favourites was the 'Print for a Politician' (2005) which has been bought for the contemporary collection at the House of Commons. It is a social map of sorts in which Perry has featured and labelled all manner of groups in a sprawling landscape.

He says: "I was thinking of all the bickering that's been going on in the world and what fun it would be to label everybody socially. I made a long list of all the different groups I could think of off the top of my head and scattered them randomly on the surface. There are minimalists, chauvinist pigs, elitists, parents, fat people, townies, locals, the old, Sunnis, Shias, fantasists, working class, thick people, satanists. Everything. It shows that we can live with this difference.

"I started at the top lefthand corner and worked my way to the bottom righthand corner a month later. It took a long time to draw it. I just made it up as I went along really. The way I have depicted every group is kind of random. I wanted people to look at it and feel that they associated themselves with at least some of the people and think 'in the end, we are all just as bad as each other'.

"I am always loth to explain my work. As human beings we have a tendency to rationalise our impulses but that can lead to a lot of bullshit like invading countries. I think it says that we have got to see other people's point of view, that we are capable of good and evil, there's no such thing as 'them and us'. As soon as one group feels like they have a monopoly on righteousness then we are in trouble.

"All the architecture is mixed up and there are lots of different periods there. There are three aeroplanes there and weapons from different ages. There are generic troops. There's no historical accuracy. I wanted it to be a game and was really enjoying the figures. It was just playing. Play is very important for an artist - play and art are the same words in some African languages." (In The Guardian, 31 March 2006)

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