Image: Google: English Pen
I was fortunate enough to be able to get a ticket to see Grayson Perry’s recent talk at the Royal Geographical Society hosted by English Pen. The theme was his inspirations, largely in relation to books. I have followed Perry’s career and have read his books and have always felt inspired by his autobiographical and quirky approach to both his art and his study of human behaviour. He began the talk with a slide questioning how middle class we were as an audience and then talking about television and whether we own one, and that those who don’t LOVE to tell everyone about this. It is a sign of class. Perry had the audience in the palm of his hand throughout the evening as an actor read out carefully selected pieces from the books that has most inspired Perry’s work. These included a book of maps, Watching The English by Kate Fox, The Painted Word by T Wolfe, and Henry Darger’s Realms of the Unreal. Perry expressed that ‘pretentiousness is classless’ which I thought was an extremely thought provoking statement, and of course, quite true. He made the audience laugh by describing himself (in reference to the elements of contemporary art which he objected to) as having to become more comfortable to be part of that world and having to ‘unclench’. I thought this would be a brilliant phrase to share with my MA group as it describes well the feelings of many of us wanting to grow as artists whilst not being entirely happy with the state of the art world, and market, or notions of value and billionaire collectors.
Perry went on to talk about how psychotherapy has been the biggest influence in his work. He spoke about us all having to get to know our ‘dark side’ and that psychotherapy needs to be seen as a way of ‘cleaning up the tool shed’ whilst simultaneously leaving all the tools in place. His connections to psychotherapy and interest in outside art gave way to lots of ideas which became themes in his work, including making a Pope-mobile for his teddy Alan Measles. The construction of fantasy and persuasion, the fantasy world created with symbols and metaphors as part of his own experiences reminded me of a discussion I had with Angela Rogers at the start of the MA course when she was reassuring me that a more sophisticated way to tackle my sense of ‘appropriateness’ in my work, as an educator, was to allow things to be abstract or metaphorical. That I did not need to tell the whole story, or even part of it: that it could be entirely and selfishly my own and I alone could decide whether anything ever needed the context or symbolism shared.
Perry ended his talk, which was massively entertaining and presented in his typically articulate and irreverent style (whilst wearing a large blue satin padded nappy, bright orange tights, pink platform heels and the most fabulous makeup including stick on gems and glitter) with a moving piece of text about the abused child. The audience could not fail to be moved. Perry has become probably the most famous British potter of all time, and he has been in many ways a trailblazer in terms of how he presents himself, and the sharing of parts of his life and history through autobiographical pieces. His search for answers about how we operate and how we are indoctrinated to think and behave in certain ways is fascinating. His work, evidently an essential part of his being and his own reflections on, critique of, and exploration of what it is to be human at this time.
Such a fascinating talk. And we had the best seats in the house (front row, middle, thanks to my friend who is shameless about ‘not being British’ when it comes to queues and letting everyone else go first. Good thing too, because I still apologise when the person behind me bumps into me!) These things did make us laugh when Perry spoke about being ‘very British’.