Fifty Shades of Grayson


The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal, 2012

Grayson Perry is my latest arty crush. If you’re wondering, I have indeed read the so-bad-it’s-unputdownable Fifty Shades trilogy of repetitive S&M erotica, and I do also have a crush on Christian Grey; but on my fantasy evening, Grey would take me to a party, then Grayson would take me home.

Grayson is a transvestite and a potter, and I challenge you to visit his current exhibition, The Vanity of Small Differences, at the Victoria Miro and not leave just a little bit in love with him too. His gender bending alter-ego Claire might have committed a series of fashion faux pas, notably wearing that dress when she accepted Perry’s 2003 Turner prize, but she looks great in Perrys’ photograph The Mother of All Battles wielding a machine gun.

The Mother of All Battles

If you missed the C4 series, In the Best Possible Taste – “a safari of the taste tribes of Britain”- which chronicles, rather uninspiringly (not your fault, Grayson, you rocked), Perry’s search for inspiration for his six-panel tapestry, it’s well worth Googling Perry (as a man) to take in those crinkled blue eyes and shock of dirty blonde hair. The tapestries themselves, following the journey of Tim Rakewell (yes, it’s a reference to Hogarth) from working class Sunderland boy to bloodstained celebrity OAP, via the monied middle-class of Tunbridge Wells and the endangered upper classes of The Cotswolds, are a detailed delight, rich in irony and accuracy, their composition cleverly referencing various iconic works of religious art to elevate the mundane (“a commonplace tale of social mobility in average Britain,” as Perry has it) to the sublime.

Witness Jamie Oliver, the king of aspiration, peering benignly from the heavens as Tim is exiled from his mother’s house (Expulsion from No 8) and enters the middle class dining room, before occupying a home of his own, where the Penguin book mugs are emblazoned with the slogans, ‘Class Traitor’ and ‘Knowing Laughter,’ while the cushion reads ‘Bourgeois and Proud’ (The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal).  The figures of Tim and girlfriend in Perrys‘ Expulsion are modeled on Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

Later, Tim’s dying gasp is the word ‘Mother’ (Lamentation); here, Grayson might have woven in a personal thread, as Tims’ mother, like Graysons’, takes a second husband, and Grayson, like Tim, was thrown out of his family home for being too different.

Just as absorbing are the signature ceramic pots on display; although there are only three and a couple of sketches (compare this to the 20 – 30 Perry produces yearly from his Walthamstow studio), they were attention-grabbing enough for me to spend an hour poring over the Perry books made available to the public at the Miro, which detail hundreds of his pieces, while I ignored the gallery assistants’ pointed hints about purchasing the books from their bookstore.

Perry makes these pots, unlike his tapestries, by hand, and transfers various slogans, images and ideas, from cliches and catchphrases to obscenities and beyond, onto the old fashioned and harmlessly elegant forms of the vase/urn, making them a statement about and a document of our zeitgeist. If you don’t want to pay the £8,000 – 15,000 Perry now commands per piece, I’d advise purchasing one of the excellent books aforementioned, if, unlike me, you’re not too stingy to shell out 25 quid.

The exhibition is free. That I would have paid for.

The Vanity of Small Differences @ the Victoria Miro until 11 August 2012

Keep up with my blog – follow me on Twitter @bitesizedmary

About Mary-Claire W

Writer, reader and art fiend View all posts by Mary-Claire W

2 responses to “Fifty Shades of Grayson

  • cooking pot reviews

    Aw, this was an incredibly good post. Spending some time and
    actual effort to generate a really good article…
    but what can I say… I procrastinate a lot and never manage to get anything done.

  • Mary-Claire Wilson

    Thanks! I can’t take the credit, I was inspired by the art. I’m actually the queen of procrastination, so I hear you. A friend of mine says, ‘If not now, then when? And if not here, then where?’ I tend to say, ‘Later, someplace else.’

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