Home Arts the newly knighted potter on the power of accessibility and why he’s making a musical

the newly knighted potter on the power of accessibility and why he’s making a musical

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When Grayson Perry stood to accept the Turner Prize in 2003, he said, with characteristic irony, that it was high time the award went to “a transvestite potter from Essex”. Ceramics are commonplace in the art world today, and their ornate vessels and plates – their surfaces often adorned with coruscating social commentaries and snipes on the art world – as well as more recent forays into the tapestry, prints and carvings as well as her ever more elaborate outfits, brought Perry great public notoriety and many other accolades. He was elected a Royal Academician in 2012, was the first visual artist to give the prestigious BBC Reith Lectures in 2013 and won the Erasmus Prize in 2021. Already a recipient of a CBE award, this year he received the title knighthood for his services to the arts. . Perry also has a high public reputation for directing and presenting award-winning television documentaries on topics such as masculinity, identity, taste and anglicism, while his Grayson’s Art Club television series have attracted large audiences during the Covid-19 pandemic. He has had retrospective exhibitions over the years in Amsterdam, Oslo and Australia, and this summer his first major UK retrospective exhibition – and largest of his work – opens at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh. .

Woodcut by Grayson Perry sponsored by you (2019) © Grayson Perry.; Courtesy of the artist; Paragon. Contemporary Editions Ltd and Victoria Miro; Photo: Jack Hems

The Art Newspaper: The exhibition spans your career, from your first work, a 1983 ceramic plate called naughty sexto the most recent, mister pervert, made this year. Is the latter a comment on your recent knighthood?

Grayson Perry: I made a response to that first work because as I collect another accolade, I’m still thinking: did they really look at my work? One of my great tactical triumphs was that, from that first set, I led with my secret. All my early work was about my various perversions, lusts, cross-dressing and all. It was there from the center. And every time I’m welcomed into another upper echelon of the establishment, I just think, yeah, it worked!

Have you ever considered refusing this ultimate establishment recognition?

No! When I got the CBE about 10 years ago, I remember saying to [my daughter] Flo, do you think I should accept it? And she said, “Don’t be so upset, it’s not you, daddy.” I scanned my own reactions and found it amusing. With chivalry, I only use it on texting my closest friends. I just signed, Sir G. But I would never use it in any other context. I’ll get it back in a few weeks.

As I collect another award, I’m still thinking: did they really look at my work?

What are you gonna wear?

I designed madly. My references are Carolean. I thought, let’s refer to a precedent [King] Charles. So I went back to that period of women’s dress: tall, puffy with taffeta and quite matronly, because now I have a matronly face.

In addition to winning the Turner Prize, the Erasmus Prize and being elected a Royal Academician, you have also won several television awards. Do you think your success as a TV presenter has affected your reputation in the art world?

I called my show Serpentine Gallery The most popular art exhibition of all time! because of that. I will always challenge this idea of ​​exclusivity and the art world’s desperate need to hide behind performative seriousness. One of my big campaigns is about accessibility, but not in some sort of community, cuddly way. There is great art and you don’t need a master’s degree to understand it. This bizarre idea that you have to use a certain vocabulary to appear as an adult in the art world; it is pompous, pretentious and unworthy. I think you can be just as powerful and complex and use accessible language and speak in accessible terms. Often I think the art world gives too much power to writers – he told a writer!

cocktail parties (1989): while Perry has made a name for himself as a ceramist, now, he says, “I probably spend a third of the time making pots”

©Grayson Perry. Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro

Has directing and presenting TV shows had an impact on the type of art you create?

My stuff on TV led me to do work more outside of myself because up until 2000 when I was in therapy, I think my work was really self-centered and everything was centered on me. Then I really took the opportunity to do therapy and it gave me permission to say “OK, now I’m going to work on class and society”. And so although all of my work is to some degree self-portraiture, now it’s also about other things. I look at my early work now and it seems a bit obscurantist and self-centered. But I think that’s true for any youngster, so I’m quite sympathetic to him. It is the art of a young person.

Is clay still your primary medium? Lately you seem to have branched out into textiles, metal sculpture, prints.

If I think about the last ten things I did, maybe half of them were pots. But in terms of working hours in the year, I spend probably a third of the time making pots. But then I also do sculptures, which tend to start with ceramics; if I make a bronze I start with ceramics because it is the material with which I know how to work. But tapestries and prints are also important to me. For my next Wallace Collection show, in a few years, I’m doing a tiled cabinet and probably a rug as well.

In the tapestry The Upper Class at Bay (2012), a “new-money” couple inspired by the portrait of Thomas Gainsborough, Mr and Mrs Andrews (c.1750) – pace a deer representing the dying race owning the land

©Grayson Perry. Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro

Even though your tapestries are machine-made, I still consider you a designer.

Totally. It’s about the relationship with craftsmanship and materials and the lust of the object. I also use it as a platform to critique concept art, in the sense that if I want to do performance, I’ll do it in fucking Albert Hall, man! I’m not going to do bad theater in the back room of an art gallery. And if I’m going to do TV, I’m not going to make a boring 28-minute poorly edited video and show it in a white box where you have to sit on an uncomfortable bench; I’ll do it for people sitting at home on their sofas on Channel 4. That’s pretty much what I’ve always done. When I started making pots, I wasn’t making ceramic sculptures, I was making pots. And when I do an impression, I want it to look like a card or something that we all already know, where the real genre is not up for grabs. Singing is my latest thing: I’m doing a musical. It’s going to be traditional death. I’ve been working there for three years with Richard Thomas, who made Jerry Springer: The Opera.

What is the subject of your musical?

Were doing Grayson Perry: The Musical. It’s my life as a comedian, but heavily fictionalized so we can make a good fun story. And we’ve already written 14 or 15 songs. I think it will open in Birmingham in 2025.

What makes you want to try new things all the time? Most people would be very happy just to be a successful artist.

I like to learn. There’s a real energy in there for me; it’s just the novelty. Singing is a perfect example. I started just before confinement, and it was really hard at first. Then you reach a little platform and it’s like, ‘Oh, I can do this now!’ And then you reach another little platform and it’s exciting. It’s a whole new world and you’re learning all the time. It’s the same with the musical: when we started, I used to read books about how you write a musical and the history of musicals and gossip about musicals, and I would go see musicals because I love learning things – it’s so exciting.

Perry led the colorful Kenilworth AM1 (2010) – which was custom-built by motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson – on a performance art tour of Bavaria, accompanied by Alan Measles, his trusty teddy bear ©Grayson Perry. Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro; Photo: Moulin Angus


Born: 1960 Chelmsford, Essex

Formed: 1982 BA, Portsmouth College of Art and Design

Great Shows: 2002 Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; 2006 Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; 2011 British Museum, London; 2015 Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; 2017 Serpentine Galleries, London; 2020 Holburne Museum, Bath; 2022 National Museum, Oslo

Represented by: Victoria Miro Gallery

Grayson Perry: resounding successesRoyal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, 22 July-12 November

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