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Grayson Perry - Superhero

Who is this super hero?

Is it Sarge? No!

Rosemary the telephone operator? No!

Claire the mild mannered housewife?

Could be!

Grayson Perry – number one super guy!

Grayson Perry – seeing with an artists eye!

He’s got style, a groovy style,

And a bike that just won’t stop,

When the going gets rough he breaks a pot,

With a Grayson Perry chop!

Ok – you may think I’m mad, but its an idea that came to me returning on the train from Edinburgh having seen Grayson Perry’s retrospective exhibition last week. What if we turn around the perception that Claire is Grayson’s tranvestite ultra ego and rather she is the regular lady hidden in normality that transforms into this artistic super hero whenever we need him with his side-kick Alan Measels. Afterall, his custom built pink motorbike complete with temple for Alan is worthy of a super hero who could race to our artistic need dressed in his phallic Essex Man leathers. Indeed, his Art Club program during the pandemic did just that.

Over the past few years I have become familiar with him on TV whether Have I got News For You, or one of his documentaries exploring things that I have found interesting such as masculinity, rites of passage, America, but especially his programs on class and what it means to be English. I also find his writing interesting whether it be articles, or Reith Lectures on art, or his short book on masculinity.

The first time I saw one of his pots was at the Usher Art Gallery in Lincoln. It was a pot titled “The Charms of Lincolnshire” and I found it fascinating because of the small details in the illustrations. It perhaps had the same appeal to me as the details in a Hogarth engraving, a Lowry picture or a Where’s Wally picture full of detail to amuse me. Indeed, looking at his art you could play the game of “Where’s Alan?” as nearly all pieces have his much loved teddy bear feature somewhere. It’s the details in such pictures that, like old maps draw you in to a world of wonder. I speculate this is possibly what I like most about his art and perhaps harkens back to my childhood.

The first artist that I learned the name of as a child was Lowry. I would be about five years old and was in the house of Mr. and Mrs. Booth, local schoolteachers in Spalding, and I was fascinated by a print they had hung on the wall of an industrial town scene populated by what seemed to me hundreds of matchstick people. Mrs. Booth noticed my fascination with the picture and said to me “That’s a Lowry.” I asked what a “Lowry” was -she explained it was the name of the artist that painted the picture and that it was of the area she came from. I found his pictures fascinating and he was the first artist who’s work I could recognize other than Enid Blyton and her pictures of Noddy and toy town. As a child I tried to reproduce my own Lowry townscapes based upon the opening credits of Coronation Street using a soft “B” pencil. I loved building up detail of dogs having a piss or a broken gutter. I never really developed my drawing beyond these stylized townscapes other than drawing a mean blue tit and Christmassy gnomes. The gnomes were quite a success as one year I not only designed Christmas cards but also drew them on the price tags in my father’s electrical shop window.

As I entered the exhibition I noticed how “middle class” it seemed to be with the exception of students. Art galleries are not just brilliant spaces for art, but also for people watching. Those attending the gallery I sorted into four categories (yes I know that’s an awful thing to do):

The people visiting the gallery just to say they have been there – these tended to be carrying their mobile phones and taking pictures of each other or themselves alongside the art.

Students of art – these would be everything from school age to mature adults that were studying the art, making either notes or comments to each other some in imperious tones.

The clueless – those that had seen Grayson Perry on TV and popped in to have a look at what he did only to realise they were not in the least bit interested and were racing through the gallery to get the experience over.

Those there just to enjoy it – in my opinion these were a minority that I elevate myself to belonging to!

As I’ve got older I’ve learned there are simply two kinds of art, whether that be music, painting, sculpture, architecture or design – art you like and art you don’t like. Most of the art I liked with a few exceptions – the largest being a wooden boat called “The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman.” But I was in for a treat with the huge tapestries and the large map-like pictures that were full of details to make you think and challenge the thinking. Other pieces hit my emotions, for example, some of his “pre-Therapy” work made me feel like I just wanted to give him a hug.

There is one comment that I repeatedly overheard that grated on me because I strongly disagree with it and that was, “This work is full of satire.” To me satire is an art form that rises above the real world to ridicule it. I feel Grayson’s art is part of the real world – and yes it is funny, challenging and entertaining, but that is the real world.

In the meantime I will continue to have pride in my mediocrity in all its extremes and make the most of it!

The steps to the entrance of the Edinburgh Academy with the columns covered with Grayson's map-like art work.

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