Grayson Perry is a great chronicler of contemporary life, drawing us in with wit, affecting sentiment and nostalgia as well as, at times, fear and anger. In his work, Perry tackles subjects that are universally human: identity, gender, social status, sexuality, religion. Autobiographical references – to the artist’s childhood, his family and his transvestite alter ego Claire – can be read in tandem with questions about décor and decorum, class and taste, and the status of the artist versus that of the artisan. Perry uses the seductive qualities of ceramics and other art forms to make stealthy comments about society, its pleasures as well as it injustices and flaws, and to explore a variety of historical and contemporary themes. 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 intellectual and emotional baggage over time.
Covered with sgraffito drawings, handwritten and stencilled texts, photographic transfers and rich glazes, Perry’s detailed pots are deeply alluring. Only when we are up close do we start to absorb narratives that might allude to dark subjects such as environmental disaster or child abuse, and even then the narrative flow can be hard to discern. Just as an apparently benign or conservative medium such as ceramics is used to convey challenging ideas, Perry’s tapestries take an art form traditionally associated with grand houses – depicting classical myths, historical and religious scenes and epic battles – and play with the idea of using this ancient allegorical art to elevate the commonplace dramas of modern British life. Politics, consumerism, history and art history are bound up in the work, in both subject and medium. Yet, for Perry, emotional investment – making work about the things we care about – is key. As he says: “An emotional charge is what draws me to a subject.”
Born in Chelmsford, Essex in 1960, Grayson Perry lives and works in London. The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!, a major presentation of his work, was on view at Serpentine Galleries, London, during the summer of 2017, travelling subsequently to Arnolfini, Bristol (until 24 December 2017). Institutional venues for other recent national and international solo exhibitions include ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, Aarhus (2016); Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht (2016); Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2015 – 2016) and Turner Contemporary, Margate (2015). In 2011, The British Museum opened The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, a critically acclaimed show in which Perry combined his own works with historical artefacts chosen from the vast British Museum collection. Other solo exhibitions include the Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg (2008); 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan (2007); Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh (2006); Barbican Art Gallery, London (2002) and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2002).
The Vanity of Small Differences, Perry’s monumental suite of tapestries exploring the subject of taste in contemporary Britain, was first shown at Victoria Miro, London, in 2012 and was acquired by The Arts Council Collection and British Council and has subsequently toured throughout the UK and Europe. The making of these works was chronicled in the first of Perry’s Channel 4 television series, All In the Best Possible Taste, a 2013 Bafta Specialist Factual winner. Perry’s second Bafta-winning television series Who Are You?, about identity, was broadcast in 2014, accompanied by a solo presentation of works at the National Portrait Gallery, London. The series All Man, which considered masculinity, followed in 2016, with Allen Lane publishing the related book The Descent of Man. Perry delivered The Reith Lectures, BBC Radio 4’s annual flagship talk series, in 2013; his ensuing book Playing to the Gallery is published by Penguin. The artist’s A House for Essex, a permanent building designed in collaboration with FAT Architecture, was constructed in the North Essex countryside in 2015.
Work by the artist is held in museum collections worldwide, including The British Museum, London; Tate Collection, London; Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Stedelijk Museum; Amsterdam; Victoria & Albert Museum, London and Yale Center for British Art, New Haven among many others
Winner of the 2003 Turner Prize, Perry was elected a Royal Academician in 2012, and received a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2013; he has been awarded the prestigious appointments of Trustee of the British Museum and Chancellor of the University of the Arts London (both in 2015), and received a RIBA Honorary Fellowship in 2016.
SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS:
2017 The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! Arnolfini, London 2017 The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! Serpentine Gallery, London 2015 Turner Contemporary, Margate 2014-15 National Portrait Gallery, London 2011 The British Musuem, London 2007 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan 2006 Andy Warhol Musuem, Pittsburgh 2004Victoria Miro Gallery, London 2004 Collection Intervention, Tate St. Ives, St. Ives 2002Guerilla Tactics, Barbican Art Gallery, London, 2002 Guerilla Tactics, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 2000Sensation, Laurent Delaye Gallery, 1996-7 Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London 1994 Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London 1994Clara Scremini Gallery, Paris 1991-2 David Gill Gallery, London 1991 Garth Clark Gallery, New York 1990 Birch & Conran, London 1988 Birch & Conran, London
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