Monday, April 25, 2011

Grayson Perry : portrait of a potter in frocks

Grayson Perry is an English artist known mainly for his ceramic vases and various works in arts en crafts. Next to his earthenwares, Perry also acquired popularity using other media (printmaking, drawing, photography, ...) but especially because of his tendencies to dress in women's clothes. His works often depict dark subjects (e.g. child abuse, sado-masochism, transvestism, ...) in which images of Perry's female alter-ego, Claire, often appear. All of his oeuvre can be understood more easily at the light of some biographical facts.

Grayson Perry was born in Chelmsford on 24th March 1960. At the age of 7 his father left the house because of his wife's cheating on him (event that Perry describes as the one that has had the largest impact on him in his whole life). Soon after that, the young Grayson will have to cope with a new family and violent stepfather from who he escapes by inventing himself an imaginary world. At the age of 15, Grayson moves to his father's house where he begins going out dressed as a woman but he is soon spotted by his stepmother and thrown out of the house. A few years later, he gives up his dream of joining the army and gets into art on the advice of his art teacher. After his graduation in 1982 at Portsmouth Polytechnic, the young artist begins a hand-to-mouth life; his stepfather had told him never to return home again. After a few pottery lessons in 1983, Perry took his own path and began to expose his work individually. Thanks to the success of an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Perry was awarded the Turner Prize in 2003, the first time it was given to a ceramic artist. Perry attended the award-ceremony dressed up in his alter-ego, Claire. An autobiographical account of his formative years, entitled 'Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl' (co-written with Wendy Jones), was published in 2006. The book makes a clear reference to James Joyce's famous novel 'Portrait of the Artist as a Young man' and to Perry's gender-bender experiences.

'We've found the body of your child' is no doubt one of Perry's most controversial work. This vase depicts scenes of death and grief on a glazed silver and golden background, all along with statements such as "All men are bastards", "You fucking little slut", "Cry baby", ... Altogether this vase hints a fierce critique against paedophilia en child abuse.

In 'A map of an Englishman', Perry charts his own mind as an imaginary island, roughly brain-shapped and surrounded by various seas (e.g. Schizophrenia, Delirium, Anorexia Nervosa, ...). The countryside, on the other hand, is divided in many regions, each of which is dotted with a church (e.g. Pride, Bad Day, ...). Other geographical entities are also named in the same fashion. All these names altogether give a fascinating insight into Perry's inner thoughts and neuroses.

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