Brilliant Ideas Episode #1:
The unpredictable figure, making what he enjoys
Unique modernist expression
“Cross-dressing potter,” is the usual prefix for Grayson Perry. The most respected and beloved artist in the UK was awarded the prestigious Turner Prize in 2003. A decade later in 2013, Queen Elizabeth II awarded him the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire). For both occasions, Perry appeared as a woman.
We sat down with one of the most unpredictable figures in art, to hear in person how he grew up, his take on art and what takes up his thoughts. The very first episode of Brilliant Ideas, realized by the collaboration between Bloomberg and Hyundai, delivers the delightful interview with Grayson Perry.
Try a bit of everything
Grayson Perry was born in in Chelmsford, Essex County, northeast of London. Perry had a tough childhood after his father left. In his youth, he played with a teddy bear he named Alan Measles, on which he projected a sort of father figure character. He took the name Alan from his closest childhood friend and Measles from the disease he had as a child. The teddy bear is featured heavily in his works.
In fact, Perry’s artworks are from very simple motivations. At the award ceremonies where Perry came dressed as a woman, many asked if he dressed up as a “symbolistic way of expressing his feminity.” In our episode, he touches on the subject again with a lighthearted laugh. “I’ve just enjoyed dressing this way, ever since I was a child.”
The story behind his first encounter with ceramics is similarly drama-less. It happened almost by accident. In the open atmosphere of Portsmouth Polytechnic, Perry had been experimenting with various materials when he started to show interest in ceramics. He explains that he simply enjoyed playing with clay, which led to give ceramics a try.
Perry’s ceramics follow traditional shapes, but each is covered with humorous depictions of everyday modern life. He calls his work an ongoing dialogue between the traditional and the contemporary, and adds that he has no worries about creativity even though working with classical forms found in museums. He emphasizes that he does borrow their form, but by “getting it a bit wrong, it becomes new.”
He speaks as if he has eased his way into his current state of mind, but as an artist it is clear that it involved a thorough and deliberate process of thought and analysis. “Before I received the Turner Prize, I felt the tension around. My work sat uncomfortably in the gallery.” He asked himself, “What are these vases doing in the art gallery?” At the time, he thought his pottery was no different from traditional ones. Despite the decorative humor covering their surface, they were still closely tied to craft and tradition. However, with the recognition that came with the Turner Prize, Perry enjoyed great success in both the art market and among critics. Although he became a celebrity in the art world, his preferences continued to precede the demands of others. Perhaps this is why there is a sense of both confidence and ease when he adds, “I make what I want to make, and what I enjoy to make.”
An artist does what artists do
Perry’s early works were no different from any young-blooded artist whose focus is entirely introspective, personal and biographical. Then he began to depict what people wore, what they drank and what they thought about. He went on to explore “How does one characterize the culture and the unconsciousness that dictates the education that one receives or places one frequents?” The artist who once never ventured far from his childhood teddy bear became increasingly interested in social issues and interpersonal matters, although his work clearly does not come with an agenda. He adds, “In the end, people are not alone, and we develop in community, in people and relationships.”
“Gender” is an ongoing interest for Perry. As a cross-dresser from a young age, he himself is a living sculpture and an ongoing performer. For his role in breaking down normative boundaries, he is often called a “creative personality.” Perry uses a wide range of familiar materials such as ceramics, tapestry and photography to complete his work, conveying through them entirely new and unique ideas. Perry states that he does not think of himself as an artist working with unique ideas, and that he is not afraid of being categorized as an artist who is simply skilled at making flashy and seductive work. However, many are aware of the profundity veiled beneath the layers of glamor.
Perry is now more global than ever. As he expands his reach internationally, his British identity however has become increasingly distinct. His work now embodies more tradition, humor and social relevance he experienced, which makes him feel like a British ambassador of sorts, a feeling he catches himself savoring.
Although Perry’s work demands long hours, he does not keep an assistant. In the world of contemporary art today, where artwork is produced in factories or by dozens of assistants, he may have placed himself at a disadvantage. He explains that he is a control freak and that everything needs to be done his way—even the mistakes are his and his alone. He adds, “my mistakes make my style. If that’s not the case, what’s the difference with photorealism?”
Despite the countless solitary hours spent isolated in his studio making ceramics and drawing up enormous sketches for tapestries, Perry feels no hesitation when sharing his work with others. “As an artist baring work before an audience, essentially my job is to produce material culture.” Perry also believes that what makes visual art great is the moment when the unconsciousness of the artist and his audience meet through the work of art. No artist can fully discern what the audience is thinking,however, that mystery is the spirit that keeps Perry’s work alive.
For Perry, the audience means more than those who have a deep understanding of art. He feels greater joy when those who don’t have such understanding genuinely like his work. Headds: “I’d like to tell those who ask what my vases are doing in a gallery: If a toilet made by somebody else somehow made it as art, what I made is pure gold and a gift.”■ with ARTINPOST
<World Leaders Attend the Marriage of Alan Measles and Claire Perry> 2009
Glazed ceramic 52×32cm Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London ⓒ Grayson Perry
<I am a Man> 2014
Patinated brass 59×30×33cm Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London ⓒ Grayson Perry
<Idealised Heterosexual Couple> 2013
Glazed ceramic 53×30×30cm Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London ⓒ Grayson Perry
<The Huhne Vase> 2014
Glazed ceramic, gold 67h×40cm diameter Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London ⓒ Grayson Perry
<A Map of Days> 2013
Etching from four plates 111.5×151.5cm Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London ⓒ Grayson Perry
<Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close> 2012
Wool, cotton, acrylic, polyester and silk tapestry 200×400cm Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London ⓒ Grayson Perry
<Britain is Best> 2014
Hand embroidery; silk, glass beads, sequins, cotton thread 120×100cm Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London ⓒ Grayson Perry
Grayson Perry is one of Britain's best-known contemporary artists. He works with traditional media such as ceramics, cast iron, bronze, printmaking and tapestry, and is interested in how each historic category of object accrues over time’s intellectual and emotional baggage. Perry is a great chronicler of contemporary life, drawing viewers in with beauty, wit, affecting sentiment and nostalgia as well as fear and anger. His hard-hitting and exquisitely crafted works reference his own childhood and life as a transvestite while also engaging with wider social issues from class and politics to sex and religion.
Winner of the 2003 Turner prize, Perry was elected a Royal Academician in 2012; the following year, he received a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List, and in 2015 he has been awarded the prestigious appointments of Trustee of the British Museum and Chancellor of the University of the Arts London.