4 November 2017 – 4 February 2018
Cross-dressing has been part of Grayson Perry’s life since childhood. For the artist, the experience and its underlying eroticism are bound up with the formation of his psycho-sexual identity and his creative drive.
“I think of my dressing up as the heraldry of my subconscious.”
Perry considers 5 November 1975 as being Claire’s birthday. While he didn’t adopt the name until later, when he began to visit transvestite clubs, it was on this date that, aged fifteen, he first stepped out the front door and walked around the local village wearing a chiffon headscarf over an auburn wig, a brown polyester blouse, dog-tooth checked skirt, black court shoes and beige mac. Claire’s earliest manifestations were as a conventional ‘Essex housewife’ or ‘newsreader’ type. Later, finding being able to ‘pass’ as a woman no longer rewarding, Perry developed more flamboyant outward expressions for Claire, tapping into aspects of femininity that he had reached out for since childhood. Today, Claire appears in public and in Grayson’s art in a number of different guises, ranging from a little girl in a frilly dress to a high priestess in a ceremonial cape. Perry describes himself as a transvestite, a tranny and ‘a bloke in a dress’.
In the past, Perry purchased Claire’s outfits from high street shops or designed them himself. Since 2004, he has mainly worn clothes designed for Claire by the fashion students at London’s Central St Martins. They take part in an annual competition to design new dresses, Perry judges their work, awards prizes and purchases up to 20 of their creations every year;
“I encourage them to make the dresses as bizarre and exciting as they can.”
As with his ceramics, tapestries, sculptures and other works, Perry’s dresses often incorporate personal iconography and contain a variety symbols that relate to themes of identity, social status, sexuality and religion. Some of Claire’s best-known outfits are featured in this display, including the Bo Peep dress worn when Perry was awarded the Turner Prize in 2003.
Image: Grayson Perry, Turner Prize Dress, 2003