It is not surprising that Grayson Perry is emerging as a world figure in the arts. He is part fine artist and part entertainer. So his appeal is enormous. This is a perfect position because fine art is slowly morphing into the entertainment industry, bowing to celebrity, gossip, audience size, beautiful people and whatever else movies and other branches of the field require to succeed. Perry is fascinating because he heralded this shift and did not follow it. He was a leader. This was his trajectory from age 14!
Sydney, Australia is a perfect place for him to land with his retrospective My Pretty Little Art Career as this almost ex-British colony can understand his pistol-whipping of English stuffiness and satirizing their comedies of manners and class. First he had to do a mea culpa and reverse his earlier statement that Aboriginal art is not contemporary art. I know what he meant; it was not racist and to a degree he is right. But in the PC world one has to tailor truth to politics.
His list of how to become a successful artist (like him) was amusing and we will get to it in a moment. First the exhibition which was not much different to his show in Margate. As before, he suffered another attack from The Guardian whose poison pen flew 10,533 miles to continue its vendetta against his work.
Andrew Frost writes :
Perry’s most celebrated works are his ceramics, big pots in various shades of black and gold that chart personal stories of his transvestism and alienation from mainstream British society, works that carry more than a hint of sorrow and bitter sarcasm. These are pleasant works that retain an aura of high seriousness and, given the surge in popularity of contemporary ceramics in Australia right now, Perry is sure to find an appreciative audience for this autobiography in glazed and fired clay.
But they leave me cold. A line from the film Search & Destroy, directed by the American painter David Salle, pops in to my head: “Just because it happened to you doesn’t make it interesting”. With Perry’s art his point of view is so much part of the work that if you don’t agree with it or think it’s particularly funny, there’s not much else there.
To enter My Pretty Little Art Career in an Australian gallery is to be confronted by a kind of torture. Perry’s noble struggle to establish his identity as an artist and an Englishman have become the platform on which an already healthy ego has blossomed into something more triffid-like. Piled on top of all this is a suffocating sense of Little England, like a wet boarding house blanket on your face.
John McDonald was more reserved in his review for the Sydney Morning Herald. He correctly noted that Grayson is a performance-graphic art combo and wondered if the exhibition was, in reality, a lesson for tomorrow:
This is, perhaps, the immediate future of contemporary art. We’ve had our fill of tragedy in the 20th century, and now it’s time for comedy. If today’s artists wish to reach a broader public they will have to embrace what Perry identifies as “the growing role of PR”, making work that is provocative and, above all, entertaining. With his endless banter, his vivid sense of colour, his bawdiness, his preoccupation with class, inequality and sexual identity, even his ongoing critique of the art world, Perry is made for success. He suggests that the artist superstar of tomorrow will not be a brooding genius, but a master communicator and entertainer. The frocks are optional.
While in Sydney Grayson gave a lecture at the Sydney Opera House to a large and appreciative audience in which he laid out the parameters for his success. Here is a summary as reported in Medium:
Grayson Perry’s first talk in Australia at the Sydney Opera House was magnificent. He shaped the talk around a 13 point ‘listicle’ on how to be an artist, just like him. It was a wild romp through authenticity, pilgrimages, the benefits of making plates when you are a new artist (good Christmas presents, affordable original art), to the existential crises that happen when you are faced with a collection of your 30 plus year art career in exhibition.
1). Choose your parents carefully, get born into a really dysfunctional family.
2). Retreat to bedroom and when not masturbating spend a lot of time making fiddly things.
3. Embrace popularity.
4. Laugh at cool people.
5. Don’t feel your hand on the tool, feel the tool on the material.
6. Don’t try to be original, innovation is overrated.
7. Stay curious and have big thighs.
8. Who am I and What Do I Want to Make?
“I am not a minimalist… I am a maximalist.”
9. ‘A poet’s hope: to be, like some valley cheese, local but prized elsewhere’ – W.H. Auden.
10. Have a shed load of psychotherapy.
“Psychotherapy is like having someone clean up your tool shed.”
11. Play Seriously.
“You have to swim out of the crafty lagoon into the ocean of art.”
12. Death = very meaningful.
“Seeing 30 years of your own work in one exhibition is like going to your own funeral… A bloody good one though.”
13. Make sure you are angry and working class and have a chip on your shoulder.
Garth Clark is the Chief Editor of cfile.daily.
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