Yesterday, another OCA student Kate Aston and I went to Bristol to see the Grayson Perry exhibition, The Most Popular Exhibition Ever! I hadn’t really considered Bristol as a hub for art exhibition before, but will definitely be going back. It is much easier and cheaper to get to for me than London, and there is plenty of high quality work on show there, with the Arnolfini, Spike Island, M-Shed, The Lime Tree Gallery showing modern work, alongside the traditional museums, such as the Royal West of England, and of course, Martin Parr’s forthcoming event space.
The last time I went to the Arnolfini was for the Richard Long exhibition, which I reviewed here. Long and Perry have in common their penchant for large scale pieces and the huge rooms of the Arnolfini were an ideal location, giving the works plenty of space to breathe. The exhibition covered all three floors of the building, and it was very well attended, especially for a winter’s midweek morning – Perry is obviously a very popular artist, as per the exhibition title. Having said that, the title is really a play on words, as the exhibition looks at current popular culture of the last few years, and is very rooted in the 2010s, examining subjects like Brexit, the world of the internet and gender fluidity. I do wonder how some of the works will be seen when they become historical, rather than being contemporary. They will certainly say more about what was bothering people than many of the current, more ‘artsy’ stuff.
As we all know Grayson Perry spreads his creativity across a wide variety of media, but most of the work on display here was ceramic pots, tapestries. Most of the works were big, some were huge (see below). The ceramic pots were dotted about the building, with space to view them from all angles, which was essential as every side of the pots were covered in complex layers of colour, texture and a mind-boggling array of ideas. Minimalism is not a concept that appeals to Perry; his work tends more towards the maxim ‘If in doubt, bung it in’. Perhaps partly for this reason, and also his overt transvestitism, the everyday subject matter and obvious political enthusiasm, he has had difficulty in being accepted by the arts establishment over the years, despite his obvious talent. Looking closely at some of his ceramics, it is hard not to be awed by his facility with colour and glazing techniques, and his riotous use of different ones within the same piece of work. I was particularly struck by the subtle gold transfers which were applied to many of the pots on top of the more obvious layers, for example.
Much has been written about Grayson Perry, and his ideas and methods, so I will not say any more about them. What really fascinated me about the exhibition was the exuberance of the work, his breadth of subject matter and materials, and his playfulness. I cam away feeling that a door had opened to me, away from the straight, unadorned photographic image. Perry lets us know that it is OK to experiment, and the more extreme and wacky, the better. This degree is a journey for me, and I should not feel constrained by current standards of what is considered the ‘right’ way of making images. If I want to embellish, alter or use multi-media alongside and within my images, that is fine. The journey is about exploration and playing with concepts, as much as producing standard images. Providing there is a clear(ish) methodology and contextualisation, anything goes.
It was a breath of fresh air!
PS, while Kate and I were thumbing through some of the books Perry has used as inspiration, we came across one called Lands End, by Ruth Claxton. Claxton’s work includes torn paper and embroidered photographs and is something I need to keep a note of for future work.