Grayson Perry - WHO ARE YOU?

Posted by Ellie Laycock on

I was lucky enough to catch up with some old friends and have a look round one of my favourite galleries, the National Portrait Gallery, in London yesterday, specifically to see the Grayson Perry exhibition WHO ARE YOU?
Who Are You? Grayson Perry
What struck me was the attention to detail and high level of craftsmanship in all of his work, which was really refreshing to see in a high art context. That the pieces were dotted around in amongst more permanent (and fustily Victorian) exhibits not only highlighted the playfulness of the pieces but made the whole experience seem like being on a treasure quest, complete with map.
The first textile piece, 'Comfort Blanket', was an enormous woven hanging loosely based on a bank note design and featuring a giant 'Spitting Image' puppet style portrait of the Queen.
Grayson Perry Comfort Blanket Queen
Grayson Perry Cuppa Tea
Comfort Blanket by Grayson Perry
The central figure reminded me of medieval anatomical drawings such as these:
13th Century Vein Map
13th Century Vein Map
Medieval Brain Map
Medieval Brain Map
Another woven piece, 'Britain Is Best' featured some really intricate thread and beadwork.
Britain Is Best Grayson Perry bead work
Grayson Perry Britain Is Best detail
'Line of Departure', a tapestry portrait of 3 wounded war veterans, was designed in the style of an Afghan War Rug.
Line Of Departure Grayson Perry
Line Of Departure Grayson Perry Rug
Afghan rug makers have been incorporating symbols of the apparatus of war into their rug designs since the Soviet occupation in 1979.
Afghan War Rug
Afghan War Rug
I saw with interest that Grayson was using photographs transferred onto ceramic, particularly old family photos, to convey a sense of family history and memory.  'Memory Jar' is a portrait of an Alzheimer sufferer and his wife hiding away under a blanket while the demonic 'Altzy' furiously shreds his family photos (memories) with a huge pair of scissors.
Memory Jar Grayson Perry
Memory Jar Grayson Perry
They're used again in 'Modern Family' to explore the complex mixture of identity issues experienced by a family consisting of two white male parents and an adopted mixed-race child.
Modern Family Vase Grayson Perrry
Modern Family Grayson Perry Vase
These pieces stood out to me particularly as I worked with lots of vintage and antique photographs recently for book Photo Art including a project that transfers photos onto ceramics using water slide decal technique.
The lightest moment came when entering a room full of finely painted portraits only to see everyone crowded round one small spot. There, behind the masses, was a miniature portrait of Rylan Clark with a VIP pass slung round his neck, titled 'The Earl Of Essex'.
Rylan Earl of Essex Grayson Perry
Grayson Perry Signature

Grayson has referenced Victorian mourning jewelry, with the lock of his hair kept at the back of the portrait, and also older Elizabethan miniature painters such as Nicholas Hilliard, by using the cobalt blue ground. I was puzzled by the signature on the back at first - why the letter W and why a little drawing of an anchor. Surely Grayson Perry would have GP as initials?

Then, about 5 hours later, I realised....if you put W before anchor, you get....

Did you see the show? Which was your favourite portrait?


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