Grayson Perry – Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

I went to visit the Grayson Perry exhibition yesterday with my lovely friends from Art college 20 years ago. This was a trip for my birthday, along with a lovely meet up in the capital (lovely with christmas lights still up), sales to visit and nice coffee, lunches, chats and company. I had a great day. It was great to see them all, time flew by and the exhibition was even better than I hoped for.

I had assumed I would not be going to see this exhibit – I had toyed with going on my actual birthday, but it was midweek and would be costly and decided I couldn’t face it, so I bought the book instead. However, my friend suggested we went to the Leonardo exhibit, but it was full so I suggested we go to the Perry one instead. So I stopped reading the book any further before I went.

In Ways of Seeing (John Berger) he discusses how seeing reproductions of items before you see them ‘in person’ can devalue the actual piece. That you are no longer looking at X item. You are looking at X item that you first saw as a reproduction in Y book/Z documentary/A review etc. So I stopped reading the book. I wanted to see the exhibit with as fresh eyes as possible. I had seen the BBC Imagine documentary on Perry’s exhibition and found the processes and end result really interesting. I loved that he asked one of the (head) staff to choose between 2 helmets – one was part of the museum’s collection and the other was one Perry had made as a response and was to be included in the exhibit – and specify which was Perry’s creation. He chose the wrong one. This was great and proved that the ornateness, style and feel of items can be timeless.

Having come from a ceramic background the creation of this exhibit and the way Perry has gone about this is intriguing. I wanted to see the large pieces he made. See the details. See the colours. See whether their details are as crisp in reality as they looked. His pieces are VERY graphical. The forms don’t get in the way of the imagery and messages on the pieces and to see the responses to historical pieces were fantastic. Unless you were paying real attention to the details, they would pass as historical. Sometimes you would assume one of the pieces were made by Perry (at the end 2 slipware pieces were shown and one assumes Perry at least made one – but he made neither). But I LOVED the unpredictability of this.

The piece I was most enthralled with was the Map of Truths and Beliefs.

ABOVE: the artist stands in front of his tapestry ‘Map of Truths and Beliefs’ (2011) which is exhibited opposite a hand-drawn 1800 map based on Pilgrim’s Progress from the museum’s archives. Perry writes in a blurb on the wall: “Perhaps someone today should have a satnav App for moral guidance”. Sunday 8th Jan 2012

This was astounding in terms of its scale. It was SO much larger than I expected. I am unsure how it was created. I assume (from looking as close as I was allowed) that it was ‘industrially’ constructed/woven and appears to be with a sort of knitted construct. This gives it a slightly wobbly texture that makes it look exactly like a traditional quilt – one that has been padded and quilted in contours relating to the shapes in it.

The colours and detail are precise, bold and very graphically stylised. I found the map fascinating. Not least because we failed to notice that the depicted destinations on the map did not marry with the names. Shelly and I spent ages seeing what places we had been to on the map and it was only when we noticed Stonehenge pictorially represented well away from its name, that we realised. More examples of things being something they are not.

But I loved this piece. Such detail. So much to look at. Again and again and again. The exhibit was so well laid out and there is a big ‘framing’ wall that allows you to see the iron boat piece from the location of the map and the map from the Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman.

Reflecting on my own practice…

Well, the graphical nature of this piece and the exhibition as a whole was great. The tutors have been asking me how I can introduce more of my day job thoughts and processes into my art practice. They have asked me concentrate on pen and ink and process for a while. Which I have been doing. Taking a line for a walk. I would call it doodling with intent. But it is working in freeing my mind somewhat and allowing me to investigate marks and shapes in the abstract.

Shelly’s comment of ‘I bet you’ve been to loads of these places’ on Perry’s map made me think about where I had been.My work has always been influenced by places I have visited and found inspiring for one reason or another. It struck me I should investigate the places I have visited and what made them great for me. Both written and sketched. Graphical.Printmaking was suggested as avenue in my report and this is good for graphical elements which I love.

So, I’m off to investigate my visited places and what I loved about them and why.


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