London: 3 February–25 March 2023
Venice: 11 February–2 April 2023
Victoria Miro is delighted to present two exhibitions by Grayson Perry in London and Venice. In London, Posh Cloths features textile works from the past eight years, including new tapestries. The Venice exhibition includes ceramics and works in silver and bronze, and works on paper including collages and a new etching.
On view in London: Posh Cloths
‘I wanted to make something from the stuff of normal life, money, commuting, marriage, the internet.’
Textiles have long been part of Grayson Perry’s creative vocabulary. Bringing together a selection of tapestries completed during the past eight years, Posh Cloths unites works old and new across the core themes and subjects of his work. 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 dramas of contemporary British life. Politics, consumerism, history and art history are bound up in the work, in both subject and medium.
Credit Card, A13, Van Eyck, Microprocessor is a new tapestry created, Perry explains, because ‘I wanted to make something from the stuff of normal life, money, commuting, marriage, the internet. I layered the four images one on top of the other and then rubbed through them digitally until I could just about make out all four. It looks like a small worn carpet, a prayer mat, the first thing my feet might touch in the morning, grateful to be alive, another normal day.’
London 4 (Large Expensive Abstract Painting & Very Large Very Expensive…)
‘If I think of American cultural power, the image that pops into my head is a huge Abstract Expressionist painting, a Cold War symbol of a self-confident land of the free.’
Large Expensive Abstract Painting, 2019, is a tapestry that, bearing some of the hallmarks of twentieth-century abstraction, is also a map of London – traversed by the familiar serpentine form of the Thames and containing words that appear to chime with the social forces, tastes and codes of their corresponding locations. Perry writes, ‘Collector’s homes always seem to have a big expensive abstract painting as the centrepiece in the living room. Collectors love paintings: they are the most recognised currency in the art market. Figurative images have less universal appeal, so non-figurative art is highly tradable, widely accepted asset class. So for my 2019 exhibition at Victoria Miro Gallery all about collectors, I thought, I’ve got to make my own version of that. I wanted the work to look like an American Colour Field painting. It’s a computer-controlled weaving that virtually mimics the hands-on process of the sticky, smelly painter.’
A companion work, Very Large Very Expensive Abstract Painting, 2020, enfolds a map of Manhattan and a Jackson Pollock-style abstraction within its imagery. Writing about the work, Perry notes, ‘If I think of American cultural power, the image that pops into my head is a huge Abstract Expressionist painting, a Cold War symbol of a self-confident land of the free. This tapestry is made up of layers that reflect some of the cultural and social archaeology of Manhattan.’
London 2 (Julie Cope)
Earlier works include two tapestries made for A House for Essex, designed by Perry in collaboration with FAT Architecture in 2015 to evoke a wayside pilgrimage chapel which, instead of a patron saint, is dedicated to the life of a fictional character, Julie Cope. Completed in the style of Renaissance religious paintings, with the main characters shown several times in vignettes within each image, the tapestries illustrate key moments in Cope’s life.
Writing about A Perfect Match, Perry says, ‘The title of this one is a quote from the long poem I wrote, “The Ballad of Julie Cope”: Friends all agreed they were “a perfect match”. Julie had met Dave, her first husband, as a teenager when he was guitarist in a band called The Riders of Rohan that played the pubs on the Essex Marshes. He worked in the Coryton Refinery and was an aspirational young man; he soon became a foreman… By the 1970s, Julie and Dave had moved to South Woodham Ferrers, a big new development that I lived very close to when I was growing up. But all is not rosy – at the bottom left you can see the pink hairbrush of Pam, the “other woman”, and the bunch of flowers in Julie’s hand with a message from Dave that reads: “I am so sorry x D”.’
About In its Familiarity Golden, Perry writes: ‘This is the second half of Julie’s life. The title comes from another line in the poem I wrote, about how happiness isn’t “ecstasy, a fleeting peak” but rather “a wide fertile valley / In its familiarity, golden.” It’s the right idea that happiness is doing the quiet, regular, everyday things.’
London 3 (Battle of Britain)
‘The imaginary place I have depicted is not unlike the landscape of Essex where I lived as a young child.’
In Battle of Britain, 2017, Perry creates a vista not dissimilar to the landscape of Essex that also, as the artist realised during its making, is redolent of Battle of Britain, 1941, by Paul Nash, one of Perry’s favourite paintings. He explains, ‘I started this work with the innocuous desire to make a large landscape tapestry. I have always enjoyed the in-between places or “edgelands” as they have become fashionably known. The imaginary place I have depicted is not unlike the landscape of Essex where I lived as a young child. The layered quality of the image harks back to some of my earliest sketchbook paintings made whilst at art college. I was about half way through making this work when I realised I was unconsciously drawing a transcription of one of my favourite paintings, Battle of Britain by Paul Nash. Having yet again acknowledged the power of the unconscious I continued with the work, playing up the associations and weaving in references to the current conflicts within our society.’
London 7 (Morris, Gainsborough, Turner, Riley)
For Morris, Gainsborough, Turner, Riley, 2021, Perry combined imagery drawn from the history of British art, featuring work by William Morris, Thomas Gainsborough, JMW Turner and Bridget Riley. These works are not referenced outright; rather, they are digitally altered or adjusted, their colours and orientation changed within the tapestry’s rich and layered textures.
London 5 (Digmoor Tapestry)
The Digmoor Tapestry was inspired by conversations held during the filming of Perry’s 2016 Channel 4 series All Man. Perry writes, ‘This work is my reaction after talking to a group of young men from Skelmersdale, Lancashire. They are the victims of poverty, chaotic parenting, bad role models and disrupted education. They hung around street corners selling weed, riding motorbikes around parks and getting into fights with rival groups. They were at an age when a hormonal need to assert their masculinity was at its freshest. Deprived of acceptable badges of status, job, money, education, power and family, they exercised their masculinity in a way that seemed to echo back to the dawn of humanity – they defended territory. That territory was the Digmoor estate, a quadrant of a 1970s new town bounded by dual carriageways. They seemed prepared to kill for it. The Digmoor Tapestry is a map of the state the defended. The style was inspired by traditional African fabrics and the graffiti is taken directly from the boys’ environment. On seeing it one of them commented, “It looks like it’s been used to wrap up a body”.’
London 6 (Sacred tribal artefact)
‘I have drawn a rather tired, battered, ageing, defeated old patriarch who is handing over the sword and the tattered flag of England to a young woman.’
New works include Sacred Tribal Artefact, 2023. Perry explains, ‘My starting points for this tapestry were Persian Lion rugs, a tradition that goes back to the twelfth century, and American folk art, in the form of hooked rugs, which often depict a domestic cat. The Lion is a symbol of power, particularly male power in many cultures, even in countries where lions are not a native species, like England. I have drawn a rather tired, battered, ageing, defeated old patriarch who is handing over the sword and the tattered flag of England to a young woman. His coat is matted and is marked by traditional motifs from different lands. His fart is in the shape of a nuclear explosion. This work is a heraldic depiction of an ancient country in a time of change.’
On view in Venice
‘Searching for Authenticity comes from my fascination with the clichés of the so-called “experience economy”. The global conformity of those who refuse to be labelled.’
Ceramics on view in Venice include the pots Luxury Brands for Social Justice, 2017, and Searching for Authenticity, 2018, both of which look at the assertion of identity through cultural or consumer choices and what these reveal about us, intentionally or otherwise. Decorated with images of beaming individuals, blissfully happy at work or at sun-kissed leisure, Searching for Authenticity broaches the slippery concepts of meaning and significance, life and lifestyle – what can be authentically experienced or simply acquired. Writing about the work, Perry comments, ‘the narcissistic Instagram culture is a main theme. I often think that when people go on holiday they want to appear in the photographs they have seen in the brochure… Searching for Authenticity comes from my fascination with the rapidly crystallising clichés of the so-called “experience economy”. The global conformity of those who refuse to be labelled.’
Venice 2 (Chris Whitty)
‘I was thinking of London and its myths, like Dick Whittington whose cat has its own statue on Highgate Hill.’
Chris Whitty’s Cat, 2020, was created as part of the first series of Grayson Perry’s acclaimed Grayson’s Art Club, broadcast on Channel 4. Writing about the work in 2020, Perry said, ‘When lockdown first started back in March my wife Philippa and I went for a walk around the deserted City of London one evening. We came back through Gough Square where Samuel Johnson’s house is and a sculpture of his cat Hodge. When I saw this small life-sized memorial to a pet I was inspired. I was thinking of London and its myths, like Dick Whittington whose cat has its own statue on Highgate Hill. Chris Whitty is the Chief Medical officer for England and Chief advisor to the government during the crisis. He has become the face of the Covid pandemic. Chris Whitty’s cat is a domestic scale monument to the strange year we are all living through. This plague cat is covered in pustules and boils made decorative. Its form is inspired by an ancient Islamic incense burner.’
Venice 3 (Alan Healing the Wound and Mr Chonky Chonk)
Alan Measles, Perry’s childhood teddy bear, who he also regards as ‘surrogate father, metaphor for God… and the benign dictator of my childhood’ features in numerous works, including Alan Healing the Wound, 2021. ‘As a child,’ Perry says ‘I projected a lot of stuff onto him . He became a kind of parent to me. I like to take Alan into different parts of world culture. I’ve been looking at amazing Chola bronzes from Southern India. I love the style. He’s a kind of Hindu deity mixed with a Christian reliquary Madonna and child. Alan the surrogate father goddess.’
Perry’s inspiration for Mr Chonky Chonk, 2021, was ‘looking at the person in front when you’re in the supermarket. You’re making a character assessment from their basket. I found this pre-Columbian, Peruvian ceramic pot. He’s a chunky kind of guy. A good starting point for a pot about food. I fired on transfers from photos of things in my kitchen. My auntie could spread the perfect Marmite toast. That was a big part of my childhood.’
Venice 4 (Urban Fox works x 3)
Crayon, watercolour, collage, ink, plastic jewels
41.7 x 59 cm
16 3/8 x 23 1/4 in
Grayson Perry, Urban Fox 1, 2021More info
Crayon, watercolour, collage, ink
59 x 41.7 cm
23 1/4 x 16 3/8 in
Grayson Perry, Urban Fox 2, 2021More info
Crayon, watercolour, collage, ink, silver foil
59 x 42.1 cm
23 1/4 x 16 5/8 in
Grayson Perry, Urban Fox 3, 2021More info
‘I can remember the first time I saw an urban fox. I was so thrilled to see this piece of wildness wandering across the road nonchalantly.’
Works on paper on view in Venice feature urban foxes. Perry writes, ‘I can remember the first time I saw an urban fox. I was so thrilled to see this piece of wildness wandering across the road nonchalantly. I like to go out on my bicycle around the town at night. They pop up all the time and their eyes glow in my lights. I have drawn, collaged and painted my encounters with Mr Fox.’
Venice 5 (Our Town)
‘It is best to be a wry flâneur in Our Town.’
A new work, the large-scale etching Our Town, 2022, is a map inspired by Perry’s experience of social media during lockdown, a place that to the artist seems ‘quaint… but beneath the surface it is seething with snobbery, grievance and disappointment. Wherever you go you could trip over a modern cliché or an annoying neologism. Words are boxes and triggers and slurs. It is best to be a wry flâneur in Our Town.’
About the artist
Born in Chelmsford, Essex in 1960, Grayson Perry lives and works in London, UK. He has presented major solo exhibitions at institutions including Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht, Netherlands (2022); Manchester Art Gallery, UK (2021), The Holburne Museum, Bath, UK (2020–2021), La Monnaie de Paris, France (2018–2019); Kiasma, Helsinki, Finland (2018); The Serpentine Galleries, London, UK (2017); Arnolfini, Bristol, UK (2017); ARoS Kunstmuseum, Aarhus, Denmark (2016); Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht (2016) and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia (2015–2016). Exhibitions curated by the artist include the include the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, London, UK (2022 and 2018) and The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, British Museum, London (2011–2012). Earlier 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, USA (2006); Barbican Art Gallery, London, UK (2002) and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands (2002).
Perry delivered The Reith Lectures, BBC Radio 4’s annual flagship talk series, in 2013. Other major projects include A House for Essex (permanent building designed in collaboration with FAT Architecture in 2015) and several Channel 4 television series including All In the Best Possible Taste (2013 BAFTA Winner), Who Are You? (2014 BAFTA Winner), All Man (2016), Divided Britain (2017), Rites of Passage (2018) Grayson Perry’s Big American Road Trip (2020) and Grayson’s Art Club (2020, 2021, 2022); exhibitions of Grayson’s Art Club have been held at UK venues in 2021 and 2022. A new three-part series, Grayson Perry’s Full English, in which Perry travels around England as he tries to uncover what Englishness means today, begins on Channel 4 at 9pm on 26 January 2023.
Work by the artist is held in museum collections worldwide, including The British Museum, London, UK; Tate Collection, London, UK; Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht, Netherlands; Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia; Stedelijk Museum; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK and Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, USA 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. Perry was awarded the Erasmus Prize 2021 by the Praemium Erasmianum Foundation; an exhibition celebrating the award was held at Kunstmuseum den Haag, Netherlands, in 2022. Perry has been made a Knight Bachelor for services to the arts in the King’s New Year Honours list 2023.
Current and upcoming exhibitions include Grayson Perry: Fitting In and Standing Out at The National Museum, Oslo, Norway (until 26 March 2023). The largest ever retrospective of Perry’s work will take place in 2023 at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh (22 July–12 November 2023).