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Posts tagged ‘Grayson Perry’

Intelligent Insight: Grayson Perry – Who Are You?

Following on from his superb show, Tomb of the Unknown Craftsmen at the British Museum in 2010 is the latest collection of brilliantly insightful works by artist and craftsman Grayson Perry. This time fitting seamlessly into the collection of the National Portrait gallery, peppered throughout the museum therefore encouraging visitors on a kind of magical mystery your through the space, Perry’s new exhibition, Who are You? once again shows that Grayson Perry is one of the most intelligent artists of our times. Made in conjunction with a series of channel 4 documentaries reflecting on a series of individuals each struggling with some particular facet of their individuality, these “portraits” are very appropriately located within the hallowed halls of the London’s temple of portraiture. Ranging from etching to tapestry, enamel portrait to glazed pottery, they show Perry at his adroit best. But beyond the skilled execution of these works is the messages they so sensitively and intelligently portray. 

Line of Departure (2014 © Grayson Perry)

Line of Departure (2014 © Grayson Perry)

Jesus Army Money Box (2014 © Grayson Perry)

Jesus Army Money Box (2014 © Grayson Perry)

The Earl of Essex (2014 © Grayson Perry)

The Earl of Essex (2014 © Grayson Perry)

The Huhne Vase (2014 © Grayson Perry)

The Huhne Vase (2014 © Grayson Perry)

In mounting the show, Perry tells how he chose sitters who were each on some kind of identity journey. People who had changed religion or gender, physical or mental facilities, lost status or belonging to a group who are actively trying to change the way others see them. Thus Perry presents a vase representing the fall from grace of politician Chris Huhne, who was imprisoned for perjury after asking his wife to take the blame for a speeding offence he had committed. The vase shows his image and that of his car registration plate repeated over and over like the tire tracks of his car. It was smashed and pieced back together again in gold demonstrating Huhne’s downfall but also the fact that his new fragility in a world dominated by generic status figures will make him a richer more complex individual. There too Perry gives us a miniature enamel portrait hidden away in glass cases with others far older. It portrays XFactor star Rylan Clark as the Earl of Essex because, as Perry says, celebrity is the aristocracy of the day. 

But amongst my favourites was the Ashford Hijab, a brilliantly drafted black, white and red design on a silk scarf (appropriately) illustrating the draw of Islam for young white middle aged women who are sick of consumer culture and sexualised scrutiny of women and seek instead the comparative calm and integral values of Islam. So it shows one woman leading her family towards Mecca, her hijab being the metamorphosis of a road which in turn transforms from the outlet shopping centre of consumer culture from which she flees. Brilliant. 

The Ashford Hijab (2014 © Grayson Perry)

The Ashford Hijab (2014 © Grayson Perry)

Memory Jar (2014 © Grayson Perry)

Memory Jar (2014 © Grayson Perry)

I also loved Memory Jar, the vase sensitively portraying the effects of Alzheimer’s on a couple, as the disease ravages the mind of one man leaving his wife deprived not only of his personality and mental functions, but also destroying their shared memories. As Perry says, two people are the guardians of their shared memories. Once one person goes, so does the poignancy of the memories, and in depicting this he shows a kind of demon cutting up the family photos of the couple also reflected on the vase. It’s a stunning piece. 

And of course mention has to go to Comfort Blanket, a huge banknote tapestry representing everything that is so intrinsic to British culture and which makes the country such a stable, lawful, integral place, drawing people from all over the world. Of course fish and chips looms large, as well as words like “fair play” and “Posh and Becks”. Everything on it was so English I stood in awe at how masterfully Perry had managed to capture the essence of an entire nation in one tapestry. It also felt particularly poignant for me, an Englishman, as I prepare to leave England to move overseas in only a few days time. 

Comfort Blanket (2014 © Grayson Perry)

Comfort Blanket (2014 © Grayson Perry)

Grayson Perry: Who are You? is showing at The National Portrait Gallery until 15 March 2015. Entrance is free.

RA Summer Exhibition – Grayson Perry steals the show

Now in its 245th season, the annual Summer Exhibition at London’s Royal Academy is reputed to be the largest open-submission exhibition in the world, and also one of the oldest. Yet while it is billed as being a show which offers all artists, no matter their qualification, notoriety, nationality or skill, the opportunity to submit work and be hung amongst a who’s who of some of Britain’s most prominent contemporary artists, it is more often the case that those prominent artists more than overshadow those lesser knowns who are lucky enough to have their work selected for the show. In previous years, the non ‘Royal Academician” artists have been crammed into the smallest possible spaces, while the larger galleries have been given over to the same old RA clique, whose submissions never appear to differ from one year to the next.

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In that respect, this year’s show, just opened at Picadilly’s Burlington House, is very similar. The same old-same old is prominently hung, including works by the likes of Albert Irvine RA, whose florescent acrylic daubs continue to repel me despite my being consistently exposed to them at each annual Summer Exhibition, and Eileen Cooper RA, whose rather simplistic portraits look more craft fair than art show to my mind. Having said that, the RA appears to have learnt from past grumbles, and has not crammed the non-RA artists into a single small room, rather opting for a “Salon-style” floor to ceiling hang in many of the larger galleries, which, while rather bewildering to look at, at least makes for a more pleasant viewing experience when the large crowds of people, attracted no doubt by the smaller price tags, cluster around these works hoping to invest in the lesser known, affordable artists.

An El Anatsui "sculpture" hangs over the facade of the RA for this year's show

An El Anatsui “sculpture” hangs over the facade of the RA for this year’s show

While the Salon-style hang inevitably means that there are way more pictures on show than anyone can possibly take in on one visit, it does at least mean that there are huge rafts of works on show, and undoubtedly something to suit every taste. In keeping with my positive experience of last year (which resulted in my making two purchases), my favourite gallery of this year’s show was no doubt the print room – a gallery full of prints of all mediums, from etching to relief, screen printing to woodcuts, and I was very happy to see the artist Adam Dant on show at least twice, one of whose encyclopaedic works I had bought last year.

Adam Dant, The Mouth of Italy (Venice) hangs at this year's show © Adam Dant

Adam Dant, The Mouth of Italy (Venice) hangs at this year’s show © Adam Dant

Many of the subsequent galleries flew by in a rush of sculptures, architectural models and so-so paintings. Only a few works really stood out enough for me to remember them subsequently, amongst them Julian Opie’s Maria Teresa I, which I adored, and reminded me of a pop-art Velazquez court-painting.

Julien Opie's Maria Teresa I © Julien Opie

Julien Opie’s Maria Teresa I © Julien Opie

But undoubtedly the real star of this show and the work for which a visit to the exhibition is alone worth a visit, is one Grayson Perry, the witty, perceptive, social-commentating, cross-dressing craftsman and artist. I first estolled the virtues of Perry when I took a trip to his British Museum exhibition one year ago. Now, at the Summer Exhibition, a whole gallery (the last in fact) has been given over to a set of 6 tapestries by Perry which, under the combined title The Vanity of Small Differences, tell the story of one Tom Rakewell, whose rise and fall through life is captured insightfully and comically across these brilliantly detailed, multi-coloured and superbly designed Hogarth-inspired tapestries.

Details from The Vanity of Small Differences © Grayson Perry

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As is so typical of Perry’s work, these tapestries offer a spot-on insight into what some call Britain’s “tribes”, from stay at home frustrated mother and groups of rowdy clubbing slappers, to our aspiration for the “high life”, a tendency to attack those who the masses perceive as “upper class”, and our obsession with money, gadgets and celebrity culture. There’s so much to take in in these brilliantly conceived tapestries, and even as I write, I am itching to go and see the works again so that I can take in more of the feast of details which Perry offers up for our consumption. In the meantime I include images of all six tapestries to tempt your taste buds, as well as some shots of the wonderful details which are literally stitched into the richly weaved layers of this work.

The Adoration of the Cage Fighters © Grayson Perry

The Adoration of the Cage Fighters © Grayson Perry

The Agony in the Car Park  © Grayson Perry

The Agony in the Car Park © Grayson Perry

Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close  © Grayson Perry

Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close © Grayson Perry

The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal  © Grayson Perry

The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal © Grayson Perry

The Upper Class at Bay  © Grayson Perry

The Upper Class at Bay © Grayson Perry

Lamentation  © Grayson Perry

Lamentation © Grayson Perry

The Summer Exhibition is now open at the Royal Academy and runs until 18th August 2013.

Every Artist needs his teddy bear

The superb Grayson Perry exhibition at London’s British Museum (reviewed on my blog last week) proved an indubitable fact of life: Every Artist needs his teddy bear. Perry was unabashed in making his teddy, Alan Measles, the pivotal focus of his playful, yet sophisticatedly philosophical exhibition, feeding off the time in childhood when every young person’s mind is alive with the kind of imaginative creativity that most of us in our adult life can only dream of. It is only as children, unaware of the true gravity which attaches itself to most issues arising in everyday life, that we are free to run wild in the lush pastures of our imaginings, without responsibility, or worries upon our shoulders. To an extent, every creative Artist continues this spirit of childlike creativity throughout the duration of his career. However very few make their contemporary artwork in retrospective homage to the initial creations of their past. Grayson Perry does this with style, as well as sociological insight. But perhaps more importantly, he is not scared to emphasise the continuing importance of his teddy bear in his life and art at an age when he himself has young children, no doubt with their own cherished bears.

Pupillage: When the Bar took Centre-Stage (detail of Fluffy) (2011 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

I loved Grayson Perry’s exhibition because it embodied much of my attitude to life. I trained as a lawyer, and outwardly, I try, at least, to exude an public face of professionalism. But at home, and therefore as an artist, I indulge utterly and without compromise in the introspective world of my imagination, my desires and my aspirations. Home life for me is all about cosiness, and the loving security of my relationship. And as welcome accessories to that relationship, two very cherished teddies are held dear. Meet Bilbao: a cute knitted puppy, given to me by my partner when I was in hospital, and Fluffy, living up to his namesake – a chirpy little bear with ever enquiring eyes and a sweet inquisitive nature. These two little creatures follow my partner and I when we go on holiday, and they are always close by when I paint. It is no surprise therefore that they have featured in my artwork, and in my photography, and it is in homage to the public outing of Grayson Perry’s teddy bear, that I write this post, showcasing the role of my teddies in my work.

Pupillage: When the Bar took Centre-Stage (Oil on canvas, 2011 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

The first painting to feature one of my teddies is this one, which focuses on my time as a Pupil Barrister in London. For the non-British lawyers amongst you, this is a year specific to the Bar profession, when a young lawyer spends a year in a Barristers chambers undertaking intense training in the run up to full qualification. It is a tiring, arduous and, at times, traumatic year. The pupil is constantly assessed, always on the move, and tirelessly trying to impress his superiors. This painting embodies the pressures, depression and anxiety I felt that year. Pink legal ribbon ties me to the slave-ball emblem of the career. My body has become a marble bust as I have sought to metamorphose into the lawyer expected of the Establishment, while turning my back on myself. The profession has taken centre-stage in my life, while in the bottom left hand corner, my Partner, represented by Fluffy, has been sidelined, although the ribbon around his neck represents the extent to which my Partner too has become enslaved to the repercussions of this hectic career.

Separatism: Catalonia and the Basque Country (2009, Oil on canvas, © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

Separatism: Catalonia and the Basque Country (detail of Bilbao) (2009, Oil on canvas, © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

The next painting to feature a teddy is my work Separatism, based on the fractious political history and continuing stresses persisting in the partly autonomous regions of Catalonia in North-East Spain, and the Basque Country in the North of the country. The work, which formed part of my España Volver collection (2009) focuses on various features of the regions as well as the conflicts which have erupted in the past including the bombings instituted at the hands of terrorist separatist organisation, ETA. The rich diversity of the culture in these regions spins into a central vortex, while all around it, images from the two regions are fragmented like a jigsaw puzzle, except where the pieces are held together demonstrating signs of peace and unity in the regions. The image focuses on the architectural and gastronomic strengths of the regions, as well as famous sights such as La Concha in San Sebastián (Donostia) and Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. Meanwhile a spiralling red ribbon curls through the centre of the painting representing political red tape which, over the years, has hindered and complicated political progress. My teddy Bilbao is a small detail of the painting, wandering into the work in the bottom section. He floats in a safety ring in the seas of the rich coastline common to both Spanish reasons, and close to the marine symbolism which represents the maritime history which both regions also hold dear. His inclusion in the painting does not carry any special significance, but as he is named after the Basque Country’s great city of Bilbao, he thought it appropriate that he make an appearance.

Santa Norm (2011, acrylic on canvas) © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown

Finally, there is last year’s Christmas painting, Santa Norm, in which, appropriately, Fluffy makes an appearance in Santa’s sack of toys for all the girls and boys. Luckily, Fluffy already has a very loving home to go to.

I leave you with a selection of photographs of Fluffy and Bilbao taken on travels and at home. Enjoy being childish in life. Because we grow up fast and life is too short to take it seriously. Until next time…

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2005-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Grayson Perry: Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

Pilgrimage to the British Museum. Ink and graphite, 2011 © Grayson Perry

There is not praise enough for this superb, unusual and highly original exhibition which is currently being held at the British Museum in London. Combining works from the British Museum’s collection of ancient and historical importance, with the hyper-contemporary artistic musings of infamous cross-dressing artist, Grayson Perry, the British Museum has put on a show which departs radically from its mainstay shows of ancient China, ancient Lebanon, ancient Iran and so on. This utterly inventive exhibition is not only a refreshing change for the British Museum, but also for British contemporary art. For through Grayson Perry we have an artist who does not speak his mind for the sake of being controversial, but who, as a philosopher of our times, makes objective, shrewd and rational observations about the madness of today’s society. And he does so not in a way that is patronising or judgmental, but through works which are accessible, original and imbued with a sophisticated yet unpretentious sense of humour. And thus, amidst the requisite hushed silence of a London gallery, giggles, chuckles and sometimes outright guffaws broke through the air as the attendees of the exhibition relished in the exquisitely imaginative creations of Perry’s show.

Grayson Perry's teddy, Alan Measles

So what is the exhibition all about? Well, it basically gives Grayson Perry free reign to indulge in the unhindered realms of his imagination. Perry’s show thus takes the audience on a “pilgrimage” into his imaginary world, a world which revolves around his childhood teddy bear, Alan Measles, as the central protagonist. As the “god” of this imagined reality, the little teddy bear is expressed in a variety of religious personae, from temple keeper to the enshrined teddy as Perry explores themes connected with notions of craftsmanship in faith and sacred journeys – from shamanism, magic and holy relics to motorbikes, identity and contemporary culture. In fact, Perry and his teddy went on their own pilgrimage as a precursor to the exhibition, taking a trip on a wonderful decorated motorbike, complete with it’s own attached temple for Teddy, to Germany, the country which, in Perry’s youthful fantasies, Alan Measles had been at war with, the brave warrior in his turbulent childhood imagination. As the pilgrimage is transposed from physical journey to metaphorical odyssey through the carefully curated exhibition, we are taken through a winding gallery space, fit to bursting with a tempting display of rich glossy potteries and gems of the British Museum collection, extravagant Perry designed tapestries and plentiful shrines to Alan Measles. At its completion, the pilgrim trail concludes at the foot of a richly decorated cast-iron ship, a memorial to all the anonymous individuals that over the centuries have fashioned the handmade wonders of the world.

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