Wednesday, 4 March 2015

In Search of 'Identity': Grayson Perry.

Last month I went to see Grayson Perry’s ‘Who are you?’ at the National Portrait Gallery, not once, but twice – such is the joy of free museums in London! 


Grayson Perry is a transvestite potter who has long been interested in innovative portraiture and the opportunity it provides to explore the disjuncture between the projected and real identity of individuals and groups. As with his work on class identity Perry has accompanied his exhibition with a TV series which you can catch on 4OD.

Perry’s first works to be encountered are a map of his own identity and a massive tapestry looking at British identity. It is in this context, of the individual and the corporate that the rest of the works should be considered.

I’m used to Perry being excellent, but he has really outdone himself this time. Perry uses a variety of mediums – tapestry, pottery, screen printing to explore what it means to be British, male, famous, disabled, a soldier, religious, even human. There is a strong undercurrent of gender discussion in his work, a family with 2 Dads are compared to a ‘conventional family’, the Huhne vase is stamped with penises and yet has been broken and pieced together to depict vulnerability, Alex is undergoing gender reassignment and is depicted in a bronze piece as a warrior.

(Huhne Vase)

One of the most fascinating elements of the exhibition was the way the pieces had been placed. Rylan was amongst the 18th century authors and gentry, the Irish loyalists were with the officers from WWI and Churchill, Alex depicted as a warrior blowing a shofar and the three soldiers returning from war found themselves keeping company with the old adventurers, and the gay family in the same room as the Royal Family resting at Windsor. Sometimes there’s a faint whiff of humour in the work, the Irish loyalists are created using garish pinks and yellows, riding a horse more akin to a unicorn than a mount! Perry’s use of material can be thought provoking: when depicting a white 20-something single-mum from Kent’s conversion to Islam, he prints it onto a hijab; an article so laden with meaning and emphasis.


Perry’s work on class proved his aptitude as an ethnographer; but through his recent work on identity Perry has also proved himself an artist. I was thoroughly impressed by the work and the way placement of the exhibition encourages visitors to consider the wider range of works on offer at the National Portrait Gallery.

Who Am I?’ closes in just 11 days be sure to catch it before then. As previously mentioned, entry is free.