Crossing over

Suddenly remembered about Grayson Perry (Turner Prize Winner) and his pottery and that I saw something on the Culture show a while ago about a tapestry he did. Turner Prize winner – how can he be craft?

Walthamstow tapestry is what I was thinking about. So I found this article today on the Guardian’s archive website.

Grayson Perry’s The Walthamstow Tapestry goes on display in London

Grayson Perry tapestry 

Detail from The Walthamstow Tapestry by Grayson Perry. Photograph: Linda Nylind

Aside from his way of appearing in public dressed in elaborate couture party frocks, Grayson Perry, who won the 2003 Turner prize, is best known for his beautifully crafted pots decorated with often uncomfortable scenes of modern life.

But now he has turned his hand to textiles, and has produced a vast tapestry decorated with hundreds of brand names – including the Guardian – which goes on display at a London gallery on Friday.

The work, which measures fifteen metres by three metres, was inspired by Perry’s enthusiasm for the elaborate imagery of early 20th-century Sumatran batik fabrics.

The Walthamstow Tapestry, as he has named it, can be read from left to right. It starts with a graphically bloody scene of childbirth and then continues with depictions of the seven ages of man, through childhood, adulthood and eventually to death.

But the devil is in the detail. Around these large human figures teem hundreds of smaller images and words. The words are brand names, detached from their products but leaving behind them, Perry says, the aroma of the particular values they convey.

“When you divorce the names from their products and logos you are left with a kind of emotional residue,” he says.

Often, he says, the brand names are scattered more or less at random, but this is not always the case. In one section of the tapestry, a ship – “a ship of fools”, according to Perry – is surrounded by the names of troubled financial institutions such as RBS, HSBC, Northern Rock and Enron.

By contrast, the Guardian, says Perry, “is like a great shining star twinkling over the whole thing”.

To this statement, readers should add irony to taste.

The small images clustering among the brand names are of other matters relating to modern life. Mothers push prams, children talk on their mobile phones, soldiers aim rifles, a suicide bomber prepares to detonate himself. Even smaller motifs turn out to be litter, the detritus of modern urban existence – discarded detergent bottles, carrier bags caught in the branches of trees, beer cans, McDonald’s wrappers and even, for some reason, a stray pair of underpants apparently wafting through the air.

Perry says: “In the end I will always err on the side of making something pretty and not worry about something’s being a stage set for an idea.”

But it is clear that the tapestry conveys a comment on the particular significance of brands in modern life, and the almost religious weight they carry. “It’s almost like a religious fresco celebrating obscure gods and beliefs,” he says.

To create the tapestry Perry made a quarter-size drawing which was then sized up on a vast computer file and woven by a specialist firm in Belgium.

“It was a very enjoyable piece to make,” he says, adding, with characteristic mischievousness: “I hope it ends up in the foyer of a bank.”

The Walthamstow Tapestry goes on display at the Victoria Miro gallery, London N1, on Friday.

• This article was amended on Wednesday 7 October 2009. The Walthamstow measures fifteen by three metres, not five by three as we said. This has been corrected.


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