I have long been a fan of Grayson Perry and his art. The Turner Prize winning potter is relatable to many people. Perry is not at all an elitist. For one thing he willingly talks about his art practice in public. He also unashamedly flaunts his cross-dressing habits with his alter-ego Claire often making appearances at events. Furthermore, Perry is proud of his Essex roots and chooses not to dominate his art practice with the seemingly fashionable practice of conceptual art or paintings. Instead, he occupies himself with the less trendy (at least in Europe and America), art of pottery and tapestry. His recent collaboration on a hotel in Wrabness, Essex, called A House for Essex has just been the topic of a televised documentary and now, a solo show of his work has just opened in a not so distant province of the south-east, at the Turner Contemporary in Margate.
Perry’s show in Margate is titled Provincial Punk. The location may seem odd. It certainly is in a remote location compared to where we would typically expect to view art, but the gallery by the seaside in Kent has played host to a number of prominent artists since it opened in 2011, including Tracey Emin and Jeremy Deller. Provincial Punk consists of 50 works, mostly pottery and tapestry that span the length of his career, beginning in 1980 and continuing today. The title is inspired from the ‘post punk’ scene of 1980s London and it has been explained that the artist first chose to approach the medium of ceramics because of its uncool, ‘second class’ reputation. I have personally always admired Perry’s use of pottery and tapestry as I feel it addresses a history of craft that viewers often forget about when faced with contemporary art today, where the majority of work is conceptual and new. By employing the age-old techniques of ceramics and weaving, whether meaning too or not, Perry educates the viewer about important historical components of art.
There are many pots within the exhibition, my favourite of which is sunshine yellow in colour, and decorated with images of Perry’s alter-ego Claire dressed like the Queen. I am not sure quite why this particular pot appealed to me so much, however, the luxurious colour seemed to leave an impression and it cannot be denied that a scarf tied over the head suits Claire wonderfully. The pots are adorned with photographs collaged over one another, which have been pasted onto their exterior along with his own pictorial scribbles and writing. Perry uses his art objects to discuss contemporary culture and also depicted on these pots are images of Michael Jackson, swear words and the name of designer fashion brands.
Also displayed alongside his elaborately decorated pots are prints and tapestries. The tapestries are huge, certainly not something most of us could display in our homes, yet they nevertheless speak to many different people. Each tapestry tells the story of everyday lives, from it’s birth to it’s death. In order to take in the enormity of these works one would need to spend at least a good ten minutes in front of them to really digest what is on display and process it all fully. The work forces us to take an honest look at contemporary life which can sometimes be awkward and unappealing, but important nevertheless. Perry makes the viewing process more pleasurable with his use of bright colour and cartoon figures.
Anyone who is taking a trip to the Margate seaside this summer simply cannot miss this show.
Provincial Punk is on display at Turner Contemporary until 13 September