He must have had so much fun when he made this! I said to my friend when I saw Grayson Perry’s purple Print for a Politician at his latest show at the Victoria Miro Gallery.
The star of the show is undoubtedly the Walthamstow Tapestry, not least because it is big (15m long and 3m high) and new (it was made for this exhibition). It has been snapped up by Norman Foster, apparently for just £150,000.
But I found myself more drawn towards the two large colour etchings on the opposite wall. One version of Print for a Politician (2005) now hangs in parliament, which Perry is immensely pleased about.
Done in the style of traditional etchings of towns and landscapes, it is also reminiscent of the Chapman brothers’ huge Hell installation where tiny toy soldiers committed unspeakable atrocities.
But Perry’s work is much more benign and tongue-in-cheek – he has drawn, in great detail, a landscape with different social groups scattered randomly on the surface. Everyone he could think of is there – minimalists, male chauvinist pigs, parents, Satanists, women, fundamentalists, gays, thick people…
In his own words: “I was thinking what fun it would be to label everybody socially. I wanted people to look at it and feel that they associated themselves with at least some of the people and think ‘in the end, we are all just as bad as each other’.” The map took over a month to draw – and made me want to pick up a pencil straight away.
Map of Nowhere (2008) similarly lays bare various aspects of human existence in medieval/Renaissance map form. The blue-and-white etching, reminiscent of Delft tiles (partly because it has been printed from five plates and the edges are visible) features a beautifully drawn Hogarthian street scene at the bottom.
From this emerges a giant male figure enclosed by a circle packed with images, corporate brands and social labels. The chap’s abdomen is filled with despair, uncertainty and doubt, and to the left chavs and Asbos are locked away in a compound, not far from buildings representing big corporations like Apple, Ikea and Tesco. Perry’s transvestite alter ego also features as Saint Claire.
In a separate box on the other side, a nasty-looking individual sports tattoos all over his body ranging from sexism, racism and ageism to fear on his abdomen. Lower down in the groin area, there is porn, beer and football are emblazoned on his balls and shopping on his penis (!)
Beauty, truth, peace and love form their own little bubble, well outside this human universe – and countered by Nowhere on the other side. There is so much detail that I wish I could have taken the work home and studied it at leisure. And the drawings are amazing.
Perry – who memorably declared “It’s about time a transvestite potter won the Turner prize” when he collected it in 2003 – is best known for his multi-layered glazed pots, some of which are also on show here.
The Walthamstow tapestry, which charts human life from birth to old age, also teems with people, animals and corporate brands, but on a much larger scale. Why Walthamstow? That’s where Perry lives but the name also refers to William Morris, a key figure in the 19th-century craft movement, who was born there.
Key moments are a giant woman giving birth to a red baby on the left, a woman in a headscarf clutching an expensive-looking handbag in the middle (described by Perry as “the Madonna of the handbag”) and an old man with a strong resemblance to Jesus on the right.
Along the way are (smaller) people going about their daily lives, surrounded by many of the world’s biggest brands such as Starbucks (represented by a church), luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, carmakers e.g. Ford, media organisations including the BBC and Reuters. … The list goes on and on.
A “ship of fools” is surrounded by the names of troubled financial institutions such as RBS, HSBC and Northern Rock, although Lehman Brothers is missing (a misspelled Merril Lynch also features). No wonder the tapestry has been dubbed “the Guernica of the credit crunch”.
It is an exciting show and for those who haven’t seen it there’s some good news – it has been extended until Saturday.