Grayson Perry is a great chronicler of contemporary life, drawing us in with wit, affecting sentiment and nostalgia as well as, at times, fear and anger. In his work, Perry tackles subjects that are universally human: identity, gender, social status, sexuality, religion. Autobiographical references – to the artist’s childhood, his family and his transvestism – can be read in tandem with questions about décor and decorum, class and taste, and the status of the artist versus that of the artisan. Perry uses the seductive qualities of ceramics and other art forms to make stealthy comments about society, its pleasures as well as its injustices and flaws, and to explore a variety of historical and contemporary themes. He works with traditional media such as ceramics, cast iron, bronze, printmaking and tapestry, and is interested in how each historic category of object accrues intellectual and emotional baggage over time.
Covered with sgraffito drawings, handwritten and stencilled texts, photographic transfers and rich glazes, Perry's detailed pots are deeply alluring. Only when we are up close do we start to absorb narratives that might allude to dark subjects such as environmental disaster or child abuse, and even then the narrative flow can be hard to discern. Just as an apparently benign or conservative medium such as ceramics is used to convey challenging ideas, 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 commonplace dramas of modern British life. Politics, consumerism, history and art history are bound up in the work, in both subject and medium. Yet, for Perry, emotional investment – making work about the things we care about – is key. As he says: ’An emotional charge is what draws me to a subject.‘
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 The National Museum, Oslo, Norway (2022–2023); Bonnefanten Museum, 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 (2017); ARoS Kunstmuseum, Aarhus, Denmark (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 Grayson Perry’s Full English (2023), 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, 2022 and 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.
The largest ever retrospective of Perry’s work will take place in 2023 at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh (22 July–12 November 2023).