By Paul Mitchell in England:
29 December 2009
The huge 3-by-15-metre “The Walthamstow Tapestry,” created by ceramic artist Grayson Perry, is a sensitive depiction of the journey through life. The tapestry was the highlight of a brief exhibition at the Victoria Miro Gallery in London last month, which also saw the display of Perry’s hallmark ceramics for which he won the Turner Prize in 2003.
Because of the biting political, social and sexual criticism he employs, Perry has been likened to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century caricaturists such as William Hogarth, whom he admires because “there’s something about the warm working class element of his work,” and twentieth-century Expressionists Otto Dix and George Grosz.
Though his work is highly autobiographical, Perry is also an observer of social reality. As he explains in his recent autobiography, “there’s branding and class; religion and folklore; sex and gender, war and politics; aesthetics and pottery; the art world and psychotherapy and inner worlds and these are the things that still interest me.” But he is then quick to point out in a telling aside, “I don’t always aspire to great narrative, or to intellectual, social or political heights; sometimes I just make something in pretty colours.”
“The Walthamstow Tapestry” is dominated by a river of blood linking a graphic childbirth scene, through the seven ages of man to eventual death. Small images are strewn across the tapestry, surrounded by phrases sewn into the fabric such as a “ship of fools” and the names of failed firms and banks (Enron, Merrill Lynch, and Northern Rock). In the centre is what Perry calls the “Madonna of the Chanel handbag,” an icon of consumerism. Fashion he adds is “inveigling into our minds” like “a voracious monster that chomps its way through youthful creativity.”
The tapestry was inspired by Perry’s interest in Sumatran batik designs and makes reference to the Bayeux Tapestry, the tale of the eleventh-century Norman Conquest of England, and to Walthamstow where the socialist and artist William Morris was born. Morris, according to Perry, “had this dilemma in that he wanted things to be beautiful and handmade and yet that immediately made them so expensive that only the rich could afford them.” He hopes that this dilemma will be overcome by Internet and digital technology delivery systems that “will free the individual maker craftsman-artist from the need to have a factory or a huge infrastructure.” “The Walthamstow Tapestry” was woven by a huge computerised loom in Belgium to Perry’s design.