Born in the 1960’s in Chelmsford, Essex, Grayson Perry has become one of the most prominent British artists. His new exhibition, appropriately called ‘The Pre-Therapy Years’, is the newest edition at the Holburne Museum on Great Pulteney Street, Bath. For this exhibition, Perry asked members of the public to loan pieces they had previously bought, so many of the pieces were previously unexhibited. It includes ceramic vases and plates, sketchbooks and two short films.
Perry’s work is influenced by a working-class upbringing and Maggie Thatcher’s Britain; however, the themes are accessible to a wide audience. The exhibition explores ideas such as inequality, masculinity, patriotism and anarchism. Grayson spent his early twenties living with a post-punk group in London, where an introduction to the arts and his role in a “neo-naturist” performance group began.
The ceramics are decorative yet unsettling pieces, sketches of androgynous women, poetry and sexual deviancy feature often. The pots are made through coiling, where rolls of clay build the form and the desired silhouette is created. One reads, “Armageddon is seeming more and more attractive”, another “a western piece of art made on a sake bottle.” His playful yet profound way of subverting norms and critiquing society through textures and medium is rich to absorb.
The exhibit is reminiscent of his alter-ego Claire, who is embedded in his exploration of masculine culture. The paradox between being a transvestite and Perry’s open adoration for cycling, motorbiking and his relationship with his wife is shown in the exhibition. Perry highlights how gender binaries are constructions that are harmful in explaining differences between men and women.
Perry references psychotherapy in the exhibit and his other work, reflecting his openness – several of the exhibitions are paired with quotes from Perry himself. A sculpture of a wooden shed reads [having therapy] “is as if you have a tool bag but it’s too full of crap to be able to find the right tool – and then suddenly someone’s shown you a shed and you find everything.” As well as penetrative in to the process of psychotherapy, Perry has used these tools to create ceramics that provoke critical thought around taboo subjects.
His art is a bundle of messy and uncomfortable pastiches about many themes, a joyful and realistic representation of how it can feel to not quite “fit in” to society.
In his book, The Descent of Man, Perry explores masculinity and how its toxic nature begins to affect men from childhood. “Real men” are socialised through experiences that creates an emotionally unavailable – Perry uses the phrase “emotionally constipated” – competitive, and socially isolated group. Artfully he is clear that as a man, his book and exhibitions are shaded with the privileges and biases that this includes. Whilst engaging in feminism, he does not attempt to mansplain femininity.
Perry’s candid manner and insightfulness make this exhibition one to catch!
Editor’s Note: Following the COVID-19 outbreak, the Holburne Museum is currently closed. If you’re interested in Grayson Perry’s work, you can still view pictures of the exhibition online.