Grayson Perry (b. 1960) is a chronicler of contemporary life. The Turner Prize-winning artist is recognised for exploring themes of gender, identity and social class across distinctive artworks and compelling publications – including The Descent of Man and Playing to the Gallery. One of the UK’s most recognised contemporary voices, Perry has been making tapestries, colleges and ceramic works that address human stories since the 1980s. When approached by The Holburne Museum, Bath, about an exhibition of his early career, Perry replied: “No one knows where those works are.”
“What followed was an extraordinary process of rediscovery”, explains Curator Catrin Jones. “We asked the public and were absolutely overwhelmed by the response… We were contacted by collectors, enthusiasts and friends, who collectively held over 150 of his early works.” The resulting show, titled The Pre-Therapy Years, features the pots, plates and sculptures that first made Perry’s name. It begins in 1982 with collaged sketchbooks, experimental films and sculptures, charting the artist’s move into ceramics and the mainstream London art scene in the mid-1990s.
The Pre-Therapy Years reveals a period of transition, when Perry played with British vernacular traditions to create a language of his own. The ceramics transform from playful riffs on historic art, such as old Staffordshire pottery, crowns and thrones into a distinctive style: plates and vases rich in detail that tell tales of our times and experiences. Much of the iconography of Perry’s output has a post-punk and ironic feel, combining cosy imagery with sexual or political content.
The experimental pieces from the 1980s are full of energy – tapping into themes of fetishism, gender, class, his home county of Essex and the art world. Many of these works are deeply personal, charting the evolution of Perry’s alter-ego, Claire. Perry notes: “I am really looking forward to seeing these early works again – many of which I have not seen since the eighties. It is as near as I will ever get to meeting myself as a young man, an angrier, priapic me with huge energy but a much smaller wardrobe.”
5 July – 3 January. Find out more here.
Lead image: Claire in a bus stop, courtesy of Andrew Gibson.