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grayson perry's tapestries

Hey, did you know that Grayson Perry's tapestry exhibition is still running at London's Victoria Miro gallery?

You can catch it until 11 August! If you want to watch the television documentary about it In the Best Possible Taste, you've missed the first episode, but you can catch Episode 2 for one more day and Episode 3 for eight more days on the 4oD website.

Here's the guest book entry I left behind; I thought the show was okay...

Ha ha, no, it was brilliant. And since so many of the tapestries had mobile phones stitched into them, and lots of other people were taking photos, I felt it would be all right to release my inner tourist and go all happy snappy.

If you don't live in Britain, you might not have heard of Grayson Perry, but he's pretty much known by everyone here because of his fabulous frocks and bonnets, and his pink motorcycle with a shrine on the back for his teddy bear, Alan Measles. In his latest revealed project, he's been creating a series of six tapestries which explore the different class tastes of British people. For example, how do people in the working class decorate their houses? Decorate their skin? Why are souped-up cars so important? Here's the first tapestry, The Adoration of the Cage Fighters:

As you can tell from the tapestry's title and set-up, Grayson's drawing heavily on established religious imagery. And he's also using as a template William Hogarth's series, The Rake's Progress, but following the life of his own character, Tim Rakewell. (If you're ever in the John Soane Museum in London, be sure to look for these eight paintings, hidden in an ingenious secret cupboard.)

I love all the details of recognisable patterns and paintings and bits of furniture. Grayson has a way of drawing that looks part folk art, part indie comics (which I suppose are also folk art), and it's both very appealing and often amusingly grotesque.

Here are the magi cage fighters. Tattoos really get my British husband's back up. I get such a sense of glee pointing out interesting ones to him and admiring them, because I can see it almost kills him to talk about them as legitimate art forms, but he doesn't want to sound priggish either. Yeah, that's a class thing.

Here's the a detail of the second tapestry. It has so many talking points. That model plane reminds me of one my dad got my sister for her birthday. They went out flying it with her then-boyfriend, and after she broke up with the guy, my dad kept going on dates with him to fly that thing. My sister was so not amused by this. I think the plane's still in my parents' garage.

I love how Grayson's made the innards of a car actually look quite yummy.

Moving on with Tim Rakewell to the middle class. I'm lucky: I'm an American, so I don't belong to any class and I can skitter freely between them. Or perhaps not. This dinner party looks a bit scary. But I've met Philippa, the woman in the yellow glasses, and she's not actually scary, and I suspect the middle class dishes there on the table are actually very nice. I remember when my sister was deep into her travelling hippie days - two years without wearing a pair of shoes - and she was trying to convince me that no one, absolutely no one actually likes eggplant (or aubergine, in translation). She thought it was some sort of suburban affectation. A few years ago, I reminded her about saying that, and she didn't remember. I think she eats aubergine now.

Yup, this middle class scene is spot-on. I've heard 'Guardian reader' mean both 'one of us' and used as a mild term of abuse. When I grew in America, we didn't have people quite so pigeon-holed by their newspaper reading preferences. The Seattle Times wasn't great, except for the comics, but there weren't many other choices. Having said that, my grandad read USA Today, which my parents didn't like at all (and its Ziggy comic was cringe-making). And the artsy people down the street used to subscribe to The New York Times which seemed downright weird. Why would you want to read reviews of restaurants and plays in Manhattan when it's a seven-hour flight away? Anyway, I digress, this show's about British tastes, not American. But it does make me think about what kind of stuff I like, and wonder why I like it so much.

See that yellow Aga oven? They got really trendy for awhile, Madonna bought one. But most of the people I know who have them have either gotten rid of them or complain about what they can't make in them. They're awfully cosy in the winter, though, quietly pumping out heat all day long. Oo, there's Grayson taking photos in the mirror. A lot of folk art seems to come down to people taking photos of other people taking photos of pictures they made on their phones.

Ha ha! I kind of wanted one of those Penguin mugs, but I didn't think they were quite worth the price tag. I recall a friend mocking some anti-capitalist protestors in Totnes who were occupying their pitch in a Cath Kidston tent.

Poor Tim. Now he's rich and beleaguered. Gosh, look at those orange lanterns on the tree. They look like those dried lantern plant everyone used to have in vases in, was it, the 1970's? My parents church had one hidden away up in the loft and we kids used to sneak up there and squish them to see if they'd make a cool popping noise. (They just went a bit crumbly.)

I think if I was going to add a comforting scene to offset the unease of this one, I'd paint an upper-class mud room with dogs. Our family used to have friends who had hunting dogs and while the adults would have their elegant dinner party, little depressive me would find the mud room with the rows of wellies and waxy coats and burrow into the pile of friendly, warm dogs and be as happy as I'd ever been.

And, of course, just like Hogarth's story, this one ends in tears. Gosh, that looks an awful lot like the Old Kent Road. I hope I don't die in a crash on the Old Kent Road. It's the cheapest property in British Monopoly, did you know that? I guess I just don't want to die next to McDonald's, with the smell of french fries wafting over me. (Does that make me a snob?)

I love how life just goes on in the background of this tapestry. I've left out a lot of major parts of the tapestries so you can go see them yourself. A web-size image of the whole tapestry doesn't really do it justice.

Nosy me, I had to see what the tapestries looked like on the reverse. Grayson had the tapestries made in Belgium, conversions from his digital files. So the stitching's very regular, but that allows him to get a huge amount of detail into the images.

And if you like Grayson's pots, you won't be let down; the exhibition even has a few of those. He does a lot with collage, but it's the wobbly hand-painted pictures and lettering that makes me want to get out my lino cut printmaking stuff again, and come up with a fresh idea for a series of prints. Great stuff.

Grayson Perry's work gives me a sense of hope. I love the way he makes his work accessible on so many levels. I used to run an art gallery, for six years with friends in Camberwell, and I got tired of always feeling wrong-footed; I hadn't read enough theory, I didn't appreciate minimalist artwork enough, I didn't dress right, I liked narrative images, I liked the 'wrong' things, I had what was considered bad taste. Our gallery team was lovely, but we were always walking on eggshells. And most of the artists I met weren't terribly pleasant people, not the kind I'd want to hang around with when I wasn't working.

Making the transition to children's books was SUCH a relief; I could make work I liked and other people miraculously liked it, too. The work didn't have to be intentionally profound all the time; I could draw funny things and explore shapes and colours and human relationships and have fun, and people would actually pay me for it. Unless you're trying to sell your work in the Tate bookshop, children's books aren't quite so much about established taste; kids like what they're going to like, they don't care if your tiger has a nice Rob Ryan pattern to it, they want to see BIG TEETH. I started feeling I could dress up, and it didn't matter if I looked a bit silly. And the best thing, the people I met there were actually nice people. Like, ones you could go to the pub with, and tell them embarrassing things about yourself, and they'd just laugh kindly, and tell you something equally embarrassing about them, and you might make a comic together about it.

I think Grayson's work suggests he's more like those kind of people. But he knows how to navigate the fine art world, talk the talk but make it interesting, put up with its annoying bits, and just make stuff he actually likes, and keep a sense of humour about it. The guy works very hard, he's a genuine craftsman. I have a lot of respect for all that.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 11th, 2012 12:33 pm (UTC)
Great post! Loved your American point of view re: classes, newspapers as pigeonholers, and the rest. British society is quite funny in that 'department', so to speak!

And I hadn't heard about this expo. Might check it out as I'm 'in town' next week.

Ta :)
Jul. 11th, 2012 11:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Wow!
Thanks! Yes, it's not easy for Americans to understand the class system. We have our own class system over there, but I think it's based more on which university people go to, and on body shape. Yes, do check out the exhibition if you're able! It's between Old Street and Angel tube stations.
Jul. 11th, 2012 01:27 pm (UTC)
This is a fascinating post, thanks for sharing those!

I'd seen a few of his pots before, but not the tapestries, they are amazing. The colourful group of ladies remind me of Beryl Cook a bit (only thinner) but the overall effect definitely seems darker.
Jul. 11th, 2012 06:22 pm (UTC)
Cheers, glad you like it! The tapestries are a lot like the pots, in that there's loads going on in the images. But it's fascinating to see it done in another medium, with more space.
Jul. 11th, 2012 08:37 pm (UTC)
I don't think I'd ever heard of Grayson Perry before.

Are tattoos still a class thing ? It's funny to think they were fashionable among the upper class in victorian times. Winston Curchill's mother had one on her wrist, which she concealed with a wristband. These days, it feels to me like they're much more democratized than they used to be. Stuart might be surprised if he knew how many of the people he works with secretly have one (or several).
Jul. 11th, 2012 08:55 pm (UTC)
Well, Stuart's pretty old school that way. He knows a lot of people have tattoos, but it still pains him, poor guy. But I think it's people who have entire backs covered, or tattoos on their heads that really bowl him over. You don't get a lot of middle-class people with heavily tattooed faces.
Jul. 11th, 2012 09:08 pm (UTC)
You don't even get a lot of working-class people with facial tattoos. There aren't a lot of jobs you can get once you have those. I've talked to tattoo artists who would refuse to tattoo people on the face, not even if they signed a waiver.
Jul. 11th, 2012 09:21 pm (UTC)
I think that'd be a pretty wise position to take. I can imagine people's parents going on the legal warpath if their kid got a big facial tattoo. Every so often something like that pops up in the news.
Sep. 7th, 2012 02:38 pm (UTC)
So where can we see them now the show has finished.
Aug. 17th, 2013 09:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Tapestries
Loved your comments about GP's tapestries. Best of all was your info. About the tapestries having been made in Belgium. I wish Icould find out more about the making of the tapestries.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah McIntyre

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