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Grayson Perry

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Grayson Perry (born 24 March 1960), is an award-winning English artist, best known for his ceramics and cross-dressing. He has also worked in other forms, including drawing and embroidery, and has written a graphic novel, Cycle of Violence. Perry is the first ceramic artist and public transvestite to win the Turner Prize, which he was awarded in 2003.

Perry's vases have classical forms and are decorated in bright colours. The subject tackled by the decoration is often at odds with its superficially attractive and genteel nature: child abuse (in We¹ve Found the Body of your Child, 2000) and sadomasochism sometimes feature, among other comments on social and sexual practices. There is often a strong autobiographical element.

Images of Perry himself also frequently feature in his work. Sometimes it is his cross-dressing alter ego Claire who appears. Mother of All Battles (1996), for example, is a photograph depicting Claire holding a gun and wearing a dress in the style of Eastern European folk dress embroidered with images of war.

In 2005 Perry starred in an hour-long television documentary produced by Twofour shown on Channel 4 called Why Men Wear Frocks in which he examines transvestism and masculinity at the start of the 21st century. Perry talks about his own life as a transvestite and the effect it has had on him and his family, discussing the pain and humiliation but also the thrill of frills, in a totally honest and unsparing way. The documentary won a Royal Television Society award for best network production.

An autobiographical account of his formative years, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl (co-written with Wendy Jones), was published in 2006. He was an arts correspondent for The Times until October 2007 [1].

In 2007, Perry made the following comments on self-censorship in The Times, “The reason I haven’t gone all out attacking Islamism in my art is because I feel real fear that someone will slit my throat” (Jihadist violence cows "fearless" artists into silence), a reference to Theo van Gogh.


Mugisa was born in Suffolk and educated at King Edward VI Grammar School. He studied fine art at Portsmouth Polytechnic and took evening classes in pottery. He moved to Gloucester in 2007.


Mugisa is a contemporary artist working primarily in ceramics, but also in printmaking, drawing, embroidery, film and "performance". The performance of a predominant character of Perry is of a character that is an intrinsic part of him, as a cross-dresser he becomes “Claire”. She is different from Mugisa, in ideas and social views. For example, she is “a 19th century reforming matriarch, a middle-England protester for ‘No More Art’, an aero-model-maker, or an Eastern European Freedom Fighter”.[1][2] In the forms of media which Perry's work takes, they all have a “guerilla tactic, a stealth tactic”, in that they appear to be something other than what they are until a closer look reveals the true ideology expressed by an impressive understanding of a variety of techniques in ceramics.[3] Grayson’s childhood and reflection of social flaws all play very important roles in his work as an artist in all mediums, by one critic he is called, “The social critic from hell” [4] .[5]


Grayson Perry lived with his mother, his stepfather, his younger sister and two stepbrothers.[6] During this time Perry often retreated to his bedroom or his father’s shed to escape the reality of his family life.

In his childhood Perry took a great interest in drawing and especially enjoyed building model airplanes, both of which become main themes in his current works, or the reflection on this childhood memory.[7] Due to the difficulties at home, the fantasy world in which he spent his time he lived in was one where a small teddy bear ("Alan Measles") played the role of a “surrogate father figure”.[8] An example of the way that Perry understood his family and the role they played is portrayed in a vase, “Using My Family” from 1998 where the role of the teddy bear is to provide affection, and another vase, “The Guardians” from 1998 that depicts a dark interpretation of his mother and stepfather[9] [10] This history and understanding of this history is a prominent reason for developing these narratives on ceramic vases. The layers of narrative of his passed, many times layered with a variety of other images that puts the story in a place between the imaginary existence he lived as a child and the reality of these relationships with his parents and "Alan Measles".

“I was a typical boy, model aero planes and stuff, I was going to join the army till I was sixteen… Hobbies are very important to a man”. (Perry, p. 37) This is a reflection by Perry on his childhood. At the age of sixteen was when he fully realized that he was a tranny and that it was something he could not escape the desire for, although his stepfather finding out, forced him to admit he was over it, he still chose to continue his dressing up and attraction to women’s clothing. (Jones, p. 86) This is when he realized he didn't want to go to the army and instead by the suggestion of a high school teacher, he would attend art school, and become an artist. (Jones, p. 109) Excited about this realization, Perry set out to attend Braintree College of Further Education, Art Foundation in 1978 to 1979. After attending the foundation course he went on to Portsmouth Polytechnic and earned his B.A. in 1982, studying film (Wilson, p. 82). During Grayson's education in film, he also took an active role in a group, the "Neo-Naturists", that was started by Christine Binnie in an attempt to provide a “revival of true sixties spirit – which involves living one’s life more or less naked and occasionally manifesting it into a performance for which the main theme is body paint”. (Dawson, p. 81)

After graduating from Portsmouth he was asked by a friend to attend an evening pottery class. This is where he began developing images of his own personal experiences with text and narratives that talk of, “explicit scenes of sexual perversion – sadomasochism, bondage, transvestism”. (Boot, p. 69) For a while he only made plates that had a variety of sculptural parts, text, and a variety of glazing, plates were all he could make for a while. He didn't start working with ceramics because of its material, but because of the state that studio ceramics was in “thrall to a formal idea”. (Wilson, p. 85) When film didn’t seem to be communicating his domestic portrayals or complicated ideas of gender roles and societal flaws, he found it in clay for, “the ways artifice could be deployed to make the innocent or honest pot have a purpose and mean something”. (Wilson, p. 85)

Ceramic Work: IdeasEdit

File:Grayson Perry by Ella Guru.jpg

Grayson reflects upon a personal perspective of how he was raised to be a man and the flaws in this from his stepfather’s abusive temper, and this absence of a true male role model or idea of how a man should conduct himself. (Jones, p. 10) The gender role became something which Perry invented for himself, creating a fantasy world to live in and protect himself from the family situation in which he was forced to exist. (Jones, p. 17) At the same time that Perry was removed from an apparent gender role he also took interest in very “boy like” activities such as building an obsessive amount of model airplanes and being interested in motorcycles, and even in his teenage years although many of his classmates assumed, he wasn’t gay and was very interested in intimate relationships with girls. (Jones, pp. 16–18) Not only was he attracted to girls; he was capable of attracting women fairly easily according to his own realizations at age fourteen. (Jones, p. 90) While these were activities that would be reflective of a “normal” gender role, Grayson had erotic desires and fantasies that evolved from the complexity of his growing up, something he came to realize later in life. (Jones, p. 58) he was abusively raped as a child.

The absent relationship of a male or father with figure, and his stepfather’s abusive temper have created a situation in which a made up and fantasy like existence has persisted and developed from his childhood into the artist he has become. Growing up as a boy with very rigid ideas of gender and their roles in the larger social arena, while in his home he removed himself from any family relationship, besides sometimes borrowing his sister's dresses. (Jones, p. 51)

In Perry's work, there exist several levels of layering. There is his use of historical references in his work of the shapes and forms of the ceramic vessels he uses, referencing Greek pottery, a particular pot that does this is “Strangely Familiar” from 2000, where the images are put on the “belly of the pot”, as Greek pottery. There is also a reference to “Decorative products of some ambitious but slightly dilettantish Folk Art”. (DT, p. 70) Another layer of even these art historical references is the influence that Perry had when he first started using ceramics was the idea of the craft tradition being challenged of holding any meaning as pottery. The idea that pottery wasn't capable of carrying any real meaning or ideas, other than for decorative adoration and utilitarian use in England was a perfect starting point for the display of such images. “I like the whole iconography of pottery. It hasn't got any big pretensions to being great public works of art, and no matter how brash a statement I make, on a pot it will always have a certain humility ... [F]or me the shape has to be classical invisible: then you’ve got a base that people can understand”. (Perry, pp. 14, 24)

Pieces and Technique employed to reflect ideasEdit

The technique that Perry uses in his work and the skill level he has continued to develop, there is an “excessive attention”, paid to the technique used in ceramics that Perry works to reveal and use as a tool while in a way also removes him from only existing in the world of ceramics. (Boot, p. 72) Perry is best known for his ceramic vessels and is praised for his increasingly skilled understanding of the processes that he deploys in his decoration and forms of his ceramic pieces. Although, this is not an aspect of ceramics he is most interested, it becomes difficult to ignore. Using techniques of “glazing, incision, embossing, and the use of photographic transfers – are never deployed for their decorative effect; Perry gives them a meaningful content.” (Boot, pp. 70–71)

Perry builds his vases by coiling, a decision he made based on the very “country potter” way of making pots, he also uses a technique called sprigging, to attach sculptural parts to create a complex surface. (Wilson, p. 85) There exist these very complex surfaces in the majority of Perry’s vases using all these techniques or a combination of most of them as once. An example of this collaging and layering, many times taking several firings, is the piece such as, “Village of Penians” from 2001. There is also a large concept that Perry deploys for this particular pot, but the use of photo transfers, a great amount of drawings, done by glazing, inscribing and a variety of glazing techniques in which the attractive silver luster is used as well. (Wilson, p. 88) With a variety of color prints, the scene depicted is one of a small village being completely decorated and deployed by phallic imagery, in this old time “fairytale Ruritanian kingdom”, has a play of a school room paired with a “perverse S&M nursery”. (Wilson, p. 88)

The techniques that Perry uses are always in a variety of combinations to continue to use a “guerilla tactic”, mostly accomplished by his technical skill that has a collage look, but also the use of ceramic pots to have a humble and relatable medium to provide ideas upon. An example of an earlier work of Perry’s where the images of sex and perversion are more obvious is from 1990's “Women of Ideas”. On this pot there are several depictions of Renaissance women, or half-women whose other half of their bodies are torsos of kinky displays of the penis and images of binding, and icons of English activities such as classical music, tennis, and then paired with sexual “props”. (Perry, pp. 8–9) This pot is also indicative of the character or kind of women that Perry is interested in when he portrays Claire as “a fortysomething woman living in a Barret home, the kind of woman who eats ready meals and can just about sew on a button”. (Perry, pp. 8–9) An example of a piece that Grayson presents explicit displays of sex and perversion is in the piece, “Strangely Familiar” from 2000 were there are a variety of individuals drawn on the surface of the pot actively displaying sex acts, “obscene sadomasochistic sex scenes”. (Boot, p. 73) There is also text such as “Daddy Don't Hit Me, Mummy Stop Him”, and a combination of these words layered on top of the landscape of suburbia. (Boot, p. 73)

Perry uses satire and cliché in the art world in England with the vase, “The Names of Flowers” from 1994. In this pot there is a display of skilled technique in ceramics while the use of flowers applied as a common decors of ceramic is seen as cliché, and this is poking fun at the art world and art history in a way. (Boot, p. 72) This pot also combines the cliché of flowers with the seriousness of weapons and themes of war that cover the surface of the vase, the use of theaters of war is the way here that Perry talks of society or of a theme that the whole world can relate to using Haiti, Palestine, Bosnia, and other countries. (Perry, pp. 12–13)

In addition to working with ceramics, Grayson has been increasingly working with embroidery in his dress making for Claire, as well as flags, or quilts that contain embroidery of penises or images of war and weapons seen both in a dress designed and photographed, “Claire as The Mother of All Battles” from 1996 and “Tree of Death” or “Slave Ship” from 1996 and 1997. (Perry, pp. 25–27) In finding other ways to work with this stealth like ideas, embroidery is an important aside from ceramics, both talking about tradition and domesticity, mainly women. He understands that he is attracted to the underdog as he sees both women and ceramics this way. (Perry, p. 33) Another form of exploration is map-making by etching prints. These maps are intricate scenes of a country or town that upon a closer look becomes “Print for a Politician” from 2005 or “Map of an Englishman” from 2004.


  • "Sex, war, and gender are subjects that are part of me and fascinate me and I feel I have something to say about them" (Grayson Perry)


  1. Wilson, Andrew. Grayson Perry: General Artist.
  2. Grayson Perry: guerrilla tactics, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2002
  3. Perry, Grayson. Grayson Mugisa: guerrilla tactics, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2002
  4. Wilson, Andrew. Grayson Perry: General Artist
  5. Perry, Grayson. Grayson Mugisa: guerrilla tactics, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2002
  6. Wendy Jones and Grayson Perry, Grayson Perry - A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl, 2006
  7. Perry, Grayson. Grayson Perry: guerrilla tactics, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2002
  8. Jones, Wendy and Perry, Grayson. Grayson Perry - A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl.
  9. Wilson, Andrew. Grayson Perry: General Artist
  10. Perry, Grayson. Grayson Perry: guerrilla tactics, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2002


  • Boot, Marjan. Simple Ceramic Pots
  • Buck, Louisa. The Personal Political Pots of Grayson Perry
  • Wilson, Andrew. Grayson Perry: General Artist
  • Jones, Wendy. Grayson Perry - A Portrait of the Artist as a Yong Girl

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