GRAYSON Perry’s Covid-crocked exhibition of “lost pots” at York Art Gallery will now run from May 28 to September 5 2021.
This major new display of Perry’s earliest works, Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years, will be showcased in the Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA).
Developed by the Holburne Museum in Bath, the touring exhibition is the first to celebrate Perry’s earliest forays into the art world, reintroducing the “explosive and creative works” he made between 1982 and 1994.
The 70 works have been crowd-sourced through a national public appeal, resulting in these “lost pots” being assembled for display together for the first time since they were made.
“This show has been such a joy to put together,” said Perry, when the show was first announced. “I’m really looking forward to seeing these early works again, many of which I have not seen since the Eighties.
“It’s as near as I will ever get to meeting myself as a young man, an angrier, priapic me with huge energy but a much smaller wardrobe.”
The Pre-Therapy Years show should have been the centre of attention at CoCA from June 12 to September 20 this year, but the Coronavirus pandemic intervened.
2003 Turner Prize winner Perry, meanwhile, kept himself busy by launching Grayson’s Art Club, his pledge to “battle the boredom” of the lockdown through art, in a six-part series on Channel 4 from April 27 that attracted a million viewers a week.
From his London workshop, the 60-year-old Essex transvestite artist, potter, broadcaster and writer took viewers on a journey of artistic discovery in themed shows designed to “encourage you to make your own work in the new normal of isolation”.
Now, Perry devotees can look to the horizon, awaiting the arrival of his pots in York next May.
Dr Helen Walsh, York Museums Trust’s curator of ceramics, says: “We are delighted to be showcasing the ground-breaking early works of such a renowned and influential artist.
“It is fascinating to see how his craft has progressed and evolved since he began working as an artist. His early ceramic works show that the distinctive style, themes and characters have always been central in his decoration.
“To be able to bring these works together for public display, many of which are usually hidden away in private collections, is absolutely thrilling.
“We are very much looking forward to seeing Grayson Perry’s ceramic works displayed in the beautiful Centre of Ceramic Art alongside our own collection of British studio ceramics.”
The exhibition will shine a light on Perry’s experimentation and exploration of the potential of pottery to address radical issues and human stories. The 70 works will provide an opportunity to enjoy his clever, playful and politically engaged perspective on the world as these often challenging and explicit pieces reveal his early steps towards becoming a compelling commentator on contemporary society.
Explaining how the exhibition came together, curator Catrin Jones says: “When we proposed the exhibition, Grayson responded really positively because, he said, ‘no-one knows where those works are’. So, we asked the public and were absolutely overwhelmed by the response.
“What followed was an extraordinary process of rediscovery as we were contacted by collectors, enthusiasts and friends, who collectively held over 150 of his early works.”
The first task was to process photos of the pots, plates and drawings that arrived in the inbox. “We asked all sorts of questions about the works and where they came from,” says Catrin. “We logged all the pottery marks and provenance information, as well as the wonderful stories of how their owner came to have a genuine Grayson Perry.”
Catrin and her team then sat down with Perry to look through the “extraordinary and varied” selection of artworks. “It was during this process that Grayson remarked that seeing the works again was a powerful reminder of his ‘pre-therapy years’,” she recalls.
What can visitors look forward to seeing from next May? The Pre-Therapy Years begins with Perry’s early collaged sketchbooks, experimental films and sculptures, capturing his move into using ceramics as his primary medium.
From his first plate, Kinky Sex (1983), to his early vases made in the mid-80s, Perry riffed on British vernacular traditions to create a language of his own.
The themes of his later work – fetishism, gender, class, his home county of Essex and the vagaries of the art world – appear in these early works, marked by their urgent energy.
Although much of his output consisted of vases and plates, Perry’s early experiments with form demonstrate the variety of shapes he produced: Toby jugs, perfume bottles, porringers, funeral urns and gargoyle heads.
The Pre-Therapy Years begins in 1982, when Perry was first working as an artist and then charts his progress to the mid-1990s, when he became established in the mainstream London art scene.
After completing his art degree at Portsmouth in 1982, Perry had moved to London, where he lived in a Camden squat with singer Marilyn and the Welsh conceptual artist Cerith Wyn Evans, collectively enjoying creative freedom while sharing limited resources.
During these early years, Grayson encountered the Neo Naturists, a group of freewheeling performance artists, whose visual and creative approach would have a profound impact on his work.
Consequently, the exhibition provides a snapshot of a very British time and place, revealing the transition of Grayson’s style.
He progresses from playful riffs on historic art, such as old Staffordshire pottery, along with crowns (the mixed-media Crown Of Penii, 1982) and thrones (Saint Diana, Let Them Eat S**t, 1984 – inspired by his fascination with Princess Diana) into a style that is patently his own. His plates and vases become rich with detail that tell tales of our times and experiences, such as 1989’s Cocktail Party.
Much of the iconography of Perry’s output has an angry, post-punk, deeply ironic leaning, combining cosy imagery with shocking sexual or political content.
Many of the works displayed in The Pre-Therapy Years tell a very personal story for Perry, particularly in the evolution of Claire, who first appeared in the early 1980s, inspired by such powerful women as television newsreaders and Princess Diana, rather than the exuberant child-like figure Perry created after her “coming out” party in 2000.
To accompany the rediscovery of Perry’s artworks, the Holburne Museum is illustrating the exhibition with photos and snapshots of the era, again sharing hitherto unseen glimpses of Perry as he journeyed from angry, ironic young artist to one of British art’s best-loved figures.
CoCA first exhibited a Grayson Perry ceramic, Melanie, in July 2015 as its centrepiece talking point after York Art Gallery’s £8 million transformation.
Melanie is one of three women from his Three Graces work, joined by Georgina and Sarah in the Miss Plus Size Competition.
“First seen in Grayson’s Who Are You? documentary, Melanie is a voluptuous figurative piece with a strong narrative that discusses the changing view of what constitutes feminine beauty,” said curator of ceramics Helen Walsh on its arrival.
Perry commented on his Three Graces: “In the history of sculpture, female forms such as these were often seen as fertility goddesses to be prayed to for children and plentiful harvests. Nowadays, we are more likely to see a growing health problem.”
Melanie is now featuring in York Art Gallery’s re-opening exhibition, Your Art Gallery – Paintings Chosen By You, on show since August 20, with timed tickets available at yorkartgallery.org.uk. Admission is free although you are asked to Pay As You Feel, with suggested payments of £3, £5 or £7.
In May 2014, accompanied by his childhood teddy bear Alan Measles, Perry opened the Meet The Museums Bears special event in the York Museum Gardens in full transvestite regalia as part of York Museums Trust’s contribution to the Connect 10 Museums At Night national celebration.
Earlier this year, from February 8, Perry’s Stitching The Past Together tapestries went on show at Nunnington Hall, near Helmsley. Out went the National Trust country house’s 17th century Verdure tapestries for conservation work; in came a pair of Grayson’s typically colourful and thought-provoking Essex House Tapestries: The Life Of Julie Cope (2015).
Hanging in an historic setting for the first time, in the Nunnington Hall drawing room, this brace of large-scale, striking works tells the story of Julie Cope, a fictitious Essex “everywoman” created by the irreverent Chelmsford-born Perry.
GRAYSON Perry and his wife, author, psychotherapist and broadcaster Philippa Perry, are to make a second Channel 4 series of Grayson’s Art Club in 2021.
“I’m so pleased and proud Art Club is coming back,” he says.”It’s a joyful team effort with the stars being the artists who send in their wonderful works and tell us their stories. Of course, it’s not principally about art, it’s a celebration of life.”