There was a time when it was normal to see Grayson Perry cycling around east London in a frock, turning heads, stopping the traffic. He is so busy and in such demand these days that even being in the audience at one of his talks today is quite a steep order, sold out even before it is advertised. Perry is such a master of ceremonies, stunning presence, allergic to stereotypes, he arrives on stage the grand dame of the pantomime, he jokes, this is me. The pretext for the comment is an exchange with the audience, you can always count on the participation of the audience as a member of the cast in the UK. Grayson warns the organizers that he might need some water at some point as he will be talking nonstop for over one hour and the audience goes Behind You!, referencing the pantomime season just over and pointing to the water bottle and glasses on a ledge behind the tall figure cut by Grayson Perry, even taller because of his high heels. He paces the stage gracefully in his grayish miniskirt frock throughout the talk, perfectly at ease in his stage persona, the successful, hard working artist, sharing his knowledge and wit with an audience of supporters of the Art Fund, art fanatics whose presumably impeccably furnished homes full of framed art Perry mocks from minute one. What is good taste, what is art, what is the perfect formula? Hard work transpires as his ethics, not a desire to shock. He is well aware of the public’s need to recognise what we see to be able to empathise and favour an artist or a work of art over another in a world that is flooded with so-called works of art and is run by business people. He has chosen a difficult path, both choosing to appear as he does, perfectly at ease in heavy makeup and frocks while being surrounded by gentlemen in coats and ties is a spectacle in its own right. He has also chosen a difficult path by scorning the traditional medium of art, as a student in the seventies he started challenging the traditional view that canvas is the only accepted and acceptable medium, He started with pottery with critics pigeonholing him as a craftsman.
He has managed to breakthrough with his disturbing political pots and he has moved on to tapestries painstakingly drawing every single detail on huge surfaces himself, mocking the perfect formula dominating the art world today: a half-baked idea, pushed by a greedy dealer, multiplied by a studio full of hundreds of crafts person actually creating the artwork, equals a big catch for investment bankers and nouveau riches… Playful and deadly serious at the same time, having an insight into Grayson Perry’s world was a very enriching experience.
Ondatje Theatre February 2018