The Crafts Council has recently acquired an exciting new addition to its national collection of contemporary craft: a pair of large-scale tapestries by Grayson Perry, winner of the Turner Prize in 2003. Presented publically for the first time at Collect (Saatchi Gallery, London, 2-6 February 2017), the new acquisitions are on a grand tour of the UK until summer 2019.
Julie Cope is a fictional character created by Grayson Perry – an Essex everywoman whose story he has told through the two tapestries and extended ballad presented in the exhibition. The Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015) illustrate the key events in the heroine’s journey from her birth during the Canvey Island floods of 1953 to her untimely death in a tragic accident on a Colchester street. Rich in cultural and architectural details, the tapestries contain a social history of Essex and modern Britain that everyone can relate to.
The tapestries are shown alongside a graphic installation, and specially commissioned audio recording of The Ballad of Julie Cope, a 3000 word narrative written and read by Perry himself that illuminates Julie’s hopes and fears as she journeys through life.
These artworks represent, in Perry’s words, ‘the trials, tribulations, celebrations and mistakes of an average life’. Historically, large-scale tapestry provided insulation for grand domestic interiors; Perry has juxtaposed its associations of status, wealth and heritage with the current concerns of class, social aspiration and taste. To write Julie’s biography, he looked to the English ballad and folktale tradition, narrating a life that conveys the beauty, vibrancy and contradictions of the ordinary individual.
The narrative originated in Perry’s A House for Essex (2012–15) – his most ambitious project to date. Designed by Perry with FAT architects for Living Architecture, and located on the Stour Estuary at Wrabness, this residential secular chapel is dedicated to Julie Cope and serves as the artist’s tribute to the people with whom he grew up.
Image: Grayson Perry, In its Familiarity Golden, 2015. Crafts Council Collection: 2016. Purchase supported by the Art Fund and a donation from Maylis and James Grand. Courtesy the artist, Paragon Press, and Victoria Miro, London. © Grayson Perry.