LONDON—Grayson Perry explains the content in his ceramic works based on his motorcycle tour of the United States in the exhibition Grayson Perry: The MOST Specialest Relationship at Victoria Miro (September 15-December 18, 2020). Images and text courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro.
I adore American culture and I love going on road trips through this vast land, preferably on a motorcycle. American Journey is a roadmap of American cultural icons I enjoy and I could list off the top of my head. They run from hyperstars like Elvis and Walt Disney to forgotten heroes like Cliff Vaughs and Ben Hardy who built the motorcycles ridden by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider.
When I was filming my US TV documentary series one of my favourite encounters was with a Manhattan colour consultant and one of her clients. When I referred to them as members of the liberal elite the client said he hated that term. I said, “yeah, now you know how it feels for your group to have a negative label.” The Sacred Beliefs of The Liberal Elite is covered in little phrases that perhaps mock the pieties of his tribe: “Original Ideas are the product of Capitalist Scum!”, “This pot is made using 67% ethically sourced ideas”, “Hipsters Unite against conformity”.’
‘Stable Genius is based on a seventeenth-century English slipware charger that I saw in a Milwaukee art museum. I adore the simple relaxed drawing on these early ceramics. The original also showed a lion with a ridiculous head of a leader, probably the king. When a reporter asked Donald Trump when he was first elected if he would be fazed by becoming President and boarding Air Force One he said no, “I am a very stable genius.” This European style of slipware was something that early settlers reproduced on American soil.
Vote Republican is also based on an early English press moulded slipware plate. A lot of these would have been produced around the time of the English Civil War and often depicted King Charles, sometimes up an oak tree, sometimes on horseback. The civil war raging in the USA at the moment is of course the culture war. On this plate we have Donald Trump on horseback, his hat balanced on his impossible hair surrounded by tweeting birds.
Crybully and Lolcow is again based on an early English press moulded plate showing two gents smoking and drinking in a coffee house. Crybully and Lolcow perhaps sound like characters in a Restoration comedy but they are two very modern terms I gleaned from a rather brilliant YouTube channel called ContraPoints. Crybully is an elegant way of putting the psychotherapeutic phenomenon of “persecuting from a victim standpoint” someone who thinks because they have had something unfortunate happen to them it gives them a free pass to be awful to other people. A Lolcow is someone on social media who is unwittingly hilarious and other users will provoke and tease the Lolcow into reacting in an unconsciously stupid, angry and unintentionally funny way: they milk them for laughs, hence Lolcow.’
‘Aspects of My Sexuality and Gender Dressed Up as Colonial Settlers shows Claire and Alan Measles in the style of early American folk art, togged out in nineteenth-century European clothes arriving in the “New World” to find a piece of land and start a new life. Problematic!
In fact there are a lot of problematic elements to this innocent seeming work if you want to look for them. Ever since my first visit to the USA in the 1980s I have been aware that it is a land prone to extremes. Extremes of natural beauty and strip mall crassness, right-wing fanaticism and left-wing dogma, alcoholic or teetotal, religious conservatism or hedonistic abandon, the cutting edge and the deepest traditions, rural isolation and cities that never sleep. The Internet seems to have turbocharged this polarisation. Sanity, I feel, lies in the middle ground. I ride my bike down the middle, between the ditches of rigidity and chaos.’