Grayson Perry @ National Portrait Gallery


Grayson Perry seeks to provoke his audience into asking themselves who they are. The artist has created 14 unique portraits of Britons who are in the midst of defining their identity. These portraits which have been presented to us by Perry in a series of Channel 4 documentaries are dispersed throughout the National Portrait Gallery in the hope that this may cause the rest of us to become inspired and turn within ourselves to ask what it is that makes us the unique individuals that we are.

Among Perry’s sitters are celebrities, transsexuals, religious converts, political activists to name but a few. The group of people the artist has chosen to depict come from a large range of different social, religious and ethnic backgrounds. The sitters also encompass a variety of age ranges: from a mixed race child adopted by two, white male parents to an elderly couple facing Alzheimer’s.

While it can be argued that the majority of the people comprising the exhibits on display have little in common with the most of us, Perry does succeed in showing just how diverse British culture and society is. His works also span multiple different forms of media from blankets, posters and even a hijab, not to mention the pots that made Perry famous in the first place. The artist’s works bring a sense of colour as well as new life into the galleries, which mostly consist of dark paintings of the aristocracy throughout British history.

Though one should commend Perry for his efforts to place his works among the gallery’s permanent collections in order to engage viewers with British art history, his efforts appeared to me to have been in vain. When I went to visit the exhibition, the majority of viewers preferred to move straight from piece to piece following the map that the artist had provided. Had Perry not made a map for the viewing public to find his art, perhaps they would have been forced to spend more time with the permanent displays whilst searching for the work from the televised series.

Whether it is his colourful portraits of not-so-ordinary individuals or his celebrity status that has brought viewers to the National Portrait Gallery, this exhibition is certainly not to be missed. I’m not sure if it caused me to question my own identity, but I do urge others to see if they leave asking themselves what it is that constitutes their make-up. And if that isn’t enough, the exhibition opens with a fabulous image that did not feature in the television series.

Grayson Perry: Who Are You? is on display at National Portrait Gallery until 25 October

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer with a special interest in contemporary Middle Eastern Art. She has a BA in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and also writes for After Nyne, Ibraaz and Reorient.

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