Grayson Perry – UK Turner Prize Winner – Transvestite Potter
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Update – More recent works includer Passtimes, Why Men wear frocks and his series on ‘Taste’ and Class entitled ‘It’s all done in the Best Possible Taste’ in 2012 (A little nod to Kenny Everett’s Goldie Hawn in that title) wear Grayson dresses as a middle class and a working class woman in modern Britain. You can find out more in our forums about his latest media.
Grayson Perry was born in Chelmsford, Essex, in 1960. He studied Fine Art at Portsmouth Polytechnic and learnt pottery at evening classes. Perry’s use of craft in his work comments on issues of taste in art as well as other cultural and moral values.
The explicitly sexual or fascistic imagery in his work subverts the domesticity usually associated with craft as a benign concept. The contemporary art world’s claim as ultimate arbiters of good taste is also ridiculed in Perry’s work. His favourite childhood toy a bear named Alan Measles – Alan was his next door neighbour in Essex and measles because he had measles at the time – often features in his work. He suggests that he has transferred many of his childhood feelings into the bear – the bear could be seen as a container for these anxieties and as such can feed Grayson’s artistic flair as and when he needs it.
Grayson Perry lives and works in London with his wife and family.
Since then he has presented the television program “Why Men Wear Frocks”, His no nonsense approach was was an instant hit with the UK trans community. He has also become a columnist for the Times Newspaper Art section, and has also appeared on the ITV Flagship Arts show – The South Bank Show.
Grayson occasionally presents unusual and off topic television programs such as Spare Time where he investigated the British love of hobbies.
Transvestism is important to Grayson and he appears to love the interest that Claire creates for him and the fetishistic opportunities crossdressing offers him. Not unlike Eddie Izzard in that he he also pursues many masculine activities from motor bikes to model car racing in his day to day life.
Grayson Perry Wins Turner Prize!!!”
Just as predicted, it was sex and death which won the Turner prize last night. What the bookmakers missed, however, was that the medium for the message was not the Chapman Brothers’ rotting corpses and mutilated Goyas, but Grayson Perry’s troublingly beautiful pots.
The judges’ verdict was anything but a foregone conclusion: it took hours longer than usual to reach a decision, and they went out of their way to praise “the outstanding presentations produced by all four artists”.
But, in the end, Perry’s use of the traditions of ceramics and drawing, and his “uncompromising engagement with personal and social concerns” put him out front.
His £20,000 prize, presented by Sir Peter Blake, will have to be shared with Claire, the burliest glamour girl in town, whose ruched satin “coming out dress”, exquisitely embroidered with phallic symbols, hangs on one wall of his exhibition gallery.
Claire is the alter ego of Basildon-born Perry – who is 43, six foot tall, and married with a daughter – and makes regular appearances at art scene parties. Her blue and white satin Bo-Peep outfit, complete with ribboned crook, is particularly unforgettable.
Despite his maverick status, he has spoken of the contemporary art scene as a second family: “There aren’t many other worlds that would be so accepting of a transvestite potter from Essex.”
The Chapman Brothers were favourites from the start to take the £20,000 prize, but in recent weeks Tate staff noticed that while visitors were laughing or gasping at their plastic sex dolls cast in bronze and frozen in desolating oral sex, they were spending hours in the next gallery, poring in silence over Grayson Perry’s seductively coloured pots. These are incised with a nightmare world of child abuse and violence, a landscape of tower blocks and burned out cars stalked by murderous moppets in Kate Greenaway frilly dresses. One is called We’ve Found The Body Of Your Child. Another pot, Boring Cool People, pokes fun at the very arty types now flocking to his shows and paying up to £25,000 for his vases – a price which can now safely be predicted to rise dramatically.
One of his Turner prize pots is topped by a beautifully executed in-joke, a gilt teddy bear impaled on a tiny tree, echoing the corpses hanging from a life-size tree in the Chapmans’ gallery next door.
The comments wall for visitors confirmed the trend. By the end of last week far more were voting for Perry – “great, great, great pots” one wrote – than for the Chapmans. Between them the artists left the other contenders, Willie Doherty’s angsty video piece of a man running desperately across an endless bridge, and Anya Gallaccio’s decaying flowers and seeping apples, trailing far in their wake.
Grayson Perry’s unique style was created 25 years ago, when he was living in a squat in Camden, where it was not common practice among the anarchic denizens to attend pottery classes. His first plate was inscribed Kinky Sex, and he has said he partly enjoyed pottery “because it was so easy”.
From the age of 13 he knew he was a cross-dresser, he has said, adding that the secret was discovered when his stepsister spied in his diary, and asked their mother what “transvestism” meant.
He has already said that he might spend some of the prize money on his wife and daughter, and some on new dresses for Claire. “Believe me, Claire’s a very expensive woman to keep in clothes.”
The Stuckists, apostles of painting over conceptual art, and self-appointed scourges of “the Serota tendency” (named after Sir Nicholas, director of the Tate), have picketed the ceremony for several years dressed as clowns. This year they announced with dignity that the clowns were boycotting the ceremony.
Instead they turned up with two inflatable sex dolls, specially bought in a Soho sex shop by Stuckist founder Charles Thomson, who demanded: “Did Turner exhibit sex dolls, joke shop skulls and a flower shop? Should it not be retitled the Emperor’s Prize to honour Sir Nicholas’s new art which isn’t actually there?” Of course in the event Mr Thomson looked really silly: if only he’d worn big hair and a silk frock he’d have been bang on the button.
· The sculptor Anish Kapoor, whose sculpture Marsyas filled the Tate Modern earlier this year, won the Turner prize people’s poll, in which the public voted for the best artist of all those shortlisted since 1984. The poll was organised by the Tate in partnership with Channel 4 and the Guardian.
Dec 7th 2003
Transvestite potter scoops Turner prize
News Headlines: Britain
Published: 08-Dec-2003; 07:03
transvestite potter has, perhaps fittingly for some, scooped the controversial Turner Prize.
Grayson Perry, 43, collected the £20,000 prize at a ceremony at Tate Britain in London, dressed as his alter ego Claire.
“It’s about time a transvestite potter won the Turner Prize,” he said as he picked up his award.
He is expected to spend the prize money on a combination of his wife, motorbikes and his daughter Florence’s school fees.
Transvestite Perry, known for his vases depicting images of sex and child abuse, was considered an unlikely choice for the controversial award – because he is a potter.
“I think the art world had more difficulty coming to terms with me being a potter than my choice of frocks”, he joked.
“I’m not a standard bearer for ceramics. People say ‘Is the art world accepting ceramics?’. I say no, they’re accepting Grayson Perry.”
“I don’t think the choice is a strategic choice, I think the jury felt strongly that these were the works of a very strong artist who happens to be using ceramics and drawing,” said Sir Nicholas Serota, one of the judges.
“I don’t think this is the year of the pot.”
The Turner Prize – first awarded in 1984 – is awarded to a British artist under 50 for an outstanding exhibition of work in the previous 12 months. Its aim is “to promote public discussion of new developments in contemporary British art”.
Also up for the prize were favourites Jake and Dinos Chapman, Anya Gallaccio and Willie Doherty.
The Guardian can be a callous newspaper. Its review of an exhibition of Grayson Perry’s pottery had the headline “If I had a hammer…” and the text was a pendulous wrecking ball of hostility.
“When I opened the paper and saw that, I was really hurt,” says Perry. “It’s not good for your ego to read that in something you regard as your newspaper. But it’s particularly upsetting because you can’t just simply fall back on the good reviews you get. Because if you discount the bad ones, you have to discount the good ones too.”
But that review was two and a half years ago. Today, Grayson Perry is back together again and become certainly the hottest potter the British art world has ever known. Grayson’s pots have become eminently collectable, signature artefacts that sell for between £8,000 and £15,000 – not bad given that Perry makes between 20 and 30 of them each year in a studio in Walthamstow, east London.
Perry has even dreamed of what to spend the prize money on should the Turner prize be won. “I might spend it on a new motorbike or a studio in the country, or my wife or daughter.
I might spend some of it on dresses for Claire,” ‘ he’ tells me as he reclines suggestively on the bed with a toy doll for the photographer at his Islington home.
Who’s Claire when she’s at home? “She’s me, when I’m a trannie,” Perry, 43, explains. “And, believe me, Claire’s a very expensive woman to keep in clothes.”
[There is one called Kinky Sex, which depicts people doing exactly what you wouldn’t expect against a background of Brookside-style housing estates. There is another depicting eponymous Moonlit W*nkers, one of whom is a woman with a large erect penis. “I’ve been dusted with the perversion brush, it’s true,” he says. “In life as in art,” he adds.”]
This may be disappointing for Perry’s wife, Philippa Fairclough, who is a psychotherapist, not to mention ‘his’ 11-year-old daughter, Florence, both of whom might have sartorial expectations should he win on December 7. The doll, incidentally, who wears the same outfit as the one Claire wore to a Turner Prize launch, is called Clara. Nice touch.
The critical hostility, though, is still there. What is it about Grayson Perry that makes critics rummage in their tool boxes for monkey wrenches and lump hammers? Partly, it is because Perry is a potter. What, say critics down their noses, are ceramics doing in an art gallery? People don’t seem to have a problem with Picasso’s ceramic art, but they do with Perry’s.
“I think my work has what you might call taxi-driver appeal, by which I mean you won’t get anyone coming up to me saying, ‘My three-year-old daughter could do that’, because they couldn’t. There’s some craft in it. But among some critics it’s different. Pottery is seen by the art world as some sort of precious next-door neighbour, rather than as something in which you can produce expressive art.”
And it is what Perry expresses on ‘his’ pots that has generated the column inches. “A lot of my work has always had a guerilla tactic, a stealth tactic,” Perry has written. “I want to make something that lives with the eye as a beautiful piece of art, but on closer inspection a polemic or an ideology will come out of it.”
Bright and attractive from a distance, Grauson’s pots are rather more disturbing when viewed more closely. There is one called Kinky Sex, which depicts people doing exactly what you wouldn’t expect against a background of Brookside-style housing estates. There is another depicting eponymous Moonlit Wankers, one of whom is a woman with a large erect penis. “I’ve been dusted with the perversion brush, it’s true,” he says. “In life as in art,” he adds.
He often marks his pots with with motifs of child abuse. One pot, in lovely golds, whites and browns, is called We’ve Found the Body of Your Child and depicts scenes of death and grieving, along with slogans “All men are bastards,” “Never have kids”, “You fucking little slut” and “Cry baby”. One of his latest pots, The Plight of the Sensitive Child, depicts children in dresses consuming crack.
Can pottery express such things? Perry thinks so, but concedes there is a lot of resistance to that notion: “If you call your pot art you’re being pretentious. If you call your shark art you’re being bold and philosophical.”
Perry got into pottery in 1983 when he was living in a Camden Town squat with artists who called themselves the Neo-Naturists. “I was doing collages and stuff, and I went to a pottery evening class. I really enjoyed it, partly because it was so easy.”
Even now he doesn’t throw (which means to mould the clay on the wheel), but moulds the clay into a snake and builds it up into the required shape. The first plate he made at evening class depicted a crude crucifixion and had the words Kinky Sex marked across it. “I have used imagery that some people find disturbing. I use such materials not to deliberately shock but because sex, war and gender are subjects that are part of me and fascinate me, and I feel I have something to say about them.”
My favourite is called Boring Cool People. Against a blue background, Perry has marked blank-eyed narcissistic figures in white. “Awkwardness is one of my key words. My work is criticised for being ham-fisted or pernickety or cobbled together, but for me those are the only ways of expressing what I want. I’ve got a complete horror of minimalism or of art that is not emotionally open. Emotionally open pottery – that may well be my USP.”
Perhaps. In fact, Perry seems to have two unique selling points. One is expressive pottery and the other is Claire. His alter ego crops up in his art a lot. At the Turner exhibition, there is a photograph of Claire in a dress appliquéd with flaming fighter jets, holding a machine gun and sporting an unsettling cheesy grin. It’s called The Mother of All Battles.
Claire doesn’t have a fixed identity – Perry uses her to play different female types in his work. He loves subverting masculinist stereotypes putting women in traditionally male contexts – brandishing guns or fingering fighter jets – but at the same time remaining entirely, if kitschily, feminine.
Why does ‘he’ dress as a woman? “Because for me that’s the crack cocaine of femininity,” he says. What does that mean? “I just love dressing up in everything a man is supposed not to be, in all that vulnerability, sweetness, preciousness and impracticality.”
He realised he was a transvestite when he was about about 13. “I think it was about expressing things that I couldn’t as a boy, all the feelings that only girls are supposed to be able to have. Then the whole thing went through the charge of puberty, which made it all extremely sexual. All those things have become fetishised and eroticised for me now.
“My family found out when my stepsister looked at my diary and asked my mum what ‘transvestism’ meant,” says Perry. “They didn’t handle it at all well.”
By this time, Perry’s mother had split up with her engineer husband and she had shacked up with the milkman, who turned out to be a bully. Despite five years of therapy, he still doesn’t speak to his mother and his art is saturated with allusions to his childhood.
“Clearly, I would have fallen apart had it not been for the art world. It’s been very good to me. There aren’t many other worlds that would be so accepting of a transvestite potter from Essex.”
The Turner Prize exhibition runs every year from Tate Britain.