Perry, Grayson

▪ 2005

      Having achieved celebrity status by winning the 2003 Turner Prize, one of the art world's premier honours, British potter Grayson Perry in 2004 mounted a solo exhibition at the Tate St. Ives in Cornwall and saw I Want to Be an Artist (1996), the first of his vases to be sold at auction, fetch £36,000 (about $66,000), more than twice the presale estimate. The Turner Prize frequently generated controversy, and Perry's award was widely perceived as a continuation of this trend, though perhaps for different reasons from those in the past. Perry was the first potter to win the prize, and the fact that he dressed openly as a transvestite, with his doll-like alter ego, Claire, making frequent appearances (often accompanied by his wife and daughter), added to the controversy. Furthermore, the colourful surfaces of Perry's classically shaped vases served as a seductive camouflage for inscribed images and messages that were distinctly at odds with their decorative medium. Domestic violence, child abuse, pedophilia, and cultural stereotypes were some of the troubling themes that the artist habitually explored in these inscriptions. Perry acknowledged his exploitation of the decorative appeal of his pots, describing them as a “guerrilla tactic” or “stealth tactic,” under the cover of which “a polemic or an ideology” waited to be discovered.

      Perry was born into a working-class family in Chelmsford, Essex, Eng., on March 24, 1960. His interest in ceramics was kindled during childhood, and by the age of 13 he had confided his transvestism to his diary. He studied at the Braintree College of Further Education in Essex and at Portsmouth Polytechnic in Hampshire, but it was not until the early 1980s, when he was living in a squat in London's Camden Town, that he returned to the serious study of ceramics by way of evening art classes. At the time, he was appearing in performance pieces and art films and nursing his own aspirations as a filmmaker. He disliked the compromising and collaborating that he felt went hand-in-hand with filmmaking, however, and when in 1984 the first solo exhibition of his ceramic works—all created in his evening classes—sold well, he made pottery his main art form, though he continued to work in other media. From the 1990s Perry also worked in embroidery, creating such pieces as Mother of All Battles (1996), a woman's folk costume stitched with ethnic symbols and images of weapons and killings, and Claire's Coming Out Dress (2000). In 2004 Great Britain's Channel 4 commissioned him to make a television documentary about transvestism. Perry was also the author of a novel, Cycle of Violence (1992).

Janet Moredock

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Universalium. 2010.

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