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Who is Grayson Perry? A British Potter who is as Interesting as the Art he Creates

Updated on April 17, 2017
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Grayson Perry

Grayson Perry's life seems to be an interesting mix - it's a contradiction, an oxymoron and a confusion of things. Perry holds many traditional values, for instance he appears to love being British and revels in all the eccentricities that brings, he is also married with a child, he knows his craft in depth and he is eloquently spoken. But on the flip side he also dresses as a woman sometimes, he speaks with a 'working class' accent, he sticks two fingers up to conventionalism, likes his art to make people feel slightly uncomfortable and pokes fun at his home county of Essex. You just can't pigeon-hole him, and that is fantastic.

Personally I love all of these things about his art, but this wasn't always that way. It wasn't until I became intrigued about his cross dressing and researched about his life, loves and thoughts that I began to appreciate what he does. I enjoy the detail in his work, and the fact that the longer you look at them, the more interesting they become. You notice references to the artist, to events or symbols that have been in the news and to perceptions others might have to groups of society. They are colourful, pretty and intricate at first glance, but pack a punch when you fully take in the statement being made.

Grayson Perry - The Man

Perry was born in Chelmsford, Essex in 1960. Just seven years later, his father left the family home due to his mother's adultery. This had a huge affect on Perry and he is often quoted as saying it was the most traumatic thing of his life. He lived with his mother, stepfather, step brothers and sisters and often sought refuge in his bedroom or the shed where he would exist in a fantasy world with his teddy named Alan Measles. This teddy features in some of his art and he occasionally takes it out with him. During this part of his childhood he began making toy aircraft and drawing. Perry also discovered that he liked dressing in women's clothing.

At the age of 15 Perry moved in with his father and stepmother and at this time he occasionally went out dressed as a woman. When his father found out, Perry agreed to stop, but as more people began to know about his cross-dressing, he moved out.

With the encouragement of his art teacher, Grayson Perry decided to study art and began with a foundation course at Braintree College followed by a fine art degree at Portsmouth Polytechnic which he completed in 1982.

He often lived in squats and houses shared with others, and he even lived with Boy George for a while.

In 1987 he met his wife Philippa at an evening class for creative writing. She says she went to meet men and he went because he had done art evening classes and now wanted to give writing a go. She is a practising psychotherapist and writes a column for a leading national newspaper. They married in 1992 and had a daughter named Florence the same year. From the outside, this is a traditional family unit!


Grayson Perry Without his Dresses

Grayson Perry's Exhibitions

Perry showed his work at an exhibition in James Birch's gallery, London just 2 years after leaving art school. He had attended evening classes and made pots from clay. These he decorated using images to shock, he was an angry punk he says, and there are references to drugs, sex and death decorating conventionally-shaped vases. This contradiction in styles - the classic, conservative shape of a pot, bowl, urn and vase decorated with shocking, thought-provoking and modern imagery, was a theme he went on to develop. It can be seen time and time again throughout the years and has become Grayson Perry's trademark.

Perry went on to exhibit annually in London for the following 6 years, and then in 1991 he showed his work in New York. After this time he exhibited in Paris, Amsterdam and in 2003 he won the Turner Prize which catapulted him into the public eye. He is famous for arriving at the ceremony dressed as 'Claire' in pink and purple dress and shoes which looked like a cross between a child's party frock and a pantomime dame's costume. True to his style of contradiction, he was the complete opposite of the cool, stylish, alternative artist who usually picked up this Prize.


Grayson Perry's Contained Anger vase

Autobiological images appear on Perry's work
Autobiological images appear on Perry's work

Grayson Perry's A House for Essex

Perry was commissioned to create a house with FAT Architects that was to be both a piece of art and a dwelling. A House for Essex includes many details and elements reflecting Perry's life. The shape of the house if fairly traditional, but true to his style, there are many unique and bizarre twists. There are hand-made tiles cladding the outside that depict a pregnant woman, these give the impression that women who are expecting a baby are to be worshipped - is this something Perry believes to be true? The house has objects on the points of the roof which remind you of a church or temple - but the shapes are geometric, not crosses or other religious symbols. Inside the two-bedroomed house there are bright colours, which Perry loves to use, and a suspended motorbike that hangs from the high ceiling. This bike is a symbol of Julie, the imaginary Essex woman who lived in the house. She was knocked over and killed by a motorcycle!

This house is let out as a holiday home, and it is so popular that people have to 'win' the chance to rent it for a week by way of a ballot system. There is also a daily trail of people who try to see the house from the outside, and it is apparently causing problems for the locals who live nearby. The house was made popular by a TV programme that followed Perry through the design and build process, and this brought the meaning behind each detail to life. The 'Living Architecture' website has other unique and unusual residences that can be rented for a week or so, but these can usually be booked in a more conventional way.


A House for Essex

Perry standing outside the completed house.
Perry standing outside the completed house. | Source

Provincial Punk Exhibition

In 2015 the Turner Contemporary in Margate held an exhibition of many of Perry's pieces called Provincial Punk. Again, there is a contradiction in this, how can punk be provincial? On display were many of his pots, some sketches, one of his films, one of the tiles from his House for Essex plus some photos of the artist through time. His skull was incredible to view - walking around it taking every facet had fascinating details to enjoy. This piece investigates the changing face of Britain, and the loss of some of its traditions and values. It also makes a reference to Damien Hirst's Diamond-encrusted skull which caused such a media storm when it was revealed.

For me, the most remarkable room held Perry's huge tapestries. So bright, thought provoking and also so ordinary. Again, Perry manages to make useful items into a work of art.


What it is to be British

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Grayson Perry being interviewed

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    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      I have never heard of him but suspect he is the Andy Warhol of our time. Often great creativity comes from mixed up psychological messes trying to express themselves and figure themselves out.

    • Susan Hambidge profile image
      Author

      Susan Hambidge 2 years ago from Hertfordshire, England

      Paintdrips - thanks for taking the time to read my hub. I'm pleased you like the look for Perry's art, if you ever get the chance, see some of it because it really is fascinating up close.

    • Susan Hambidge profile image
      Author

      Susan Hambidge 2 years ago from Hertfordshire, England

      Purl3agony - thank you for your comments, and you are right, photos do not do his pottery justice.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Wow, what an amazing artist. I love the pottery because I enjoy functional art. Also I have never heard of him before so I appreciate you bringing him to my attention.

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 2 years ago from USA

      I was lucky to see an exhibition of Perry's ceramics and printmaking at the Andy Warhol Museum a few years ago. As you said, his art is amazingly detailed and layered with images and meaning. Photos don't really do it justice. I admire his use of humor and irony to make social statements and mock what is considered "respectable." Thanks for this interesting hub and sharing Perry's art with a wider audience.