Hepworth, Hockney, Riley, Etty, Spencer…who will YOU choose for Your Art Gallery?

Surgeon Waiting, by Barbara Hepworth, one of the paintings in the York Art Gallery collection being put to a public vote for the Your Art Gallery exhibition from August 20. Artwork copyright: Bowness, Hepworth Estate.. Picture: York Museums Trust

YORK Art Gallery is inviting you to choose the paintings you love and have missed the most during lockdown to feature in a new exhibition from August 20.

From Barbara Hepworth to Henri Fantin-Latour, Paul Nash to Bridget Riley, Your Art Gallery – Paintings Chosen By You will showcase a selection of works from the Exhibition Square gallery’s rich collection of paintings, voted for by the public, alongside further works chosen through Twitter polls.

There will be an opportunity too to write short labels for the painting you like the most, with the favourite responses being printed and displayed next to the work itself.

To choose your favourite works, visit yorkartgallery.org.uk and click on the Your Art Gallery – Paintings Chosen By You page. You can then rate the paintings from one to five stars, and those that prove the most popular will be included in the show. The deadline to make your choices is next Wednesday, July 29.

The Twitter polls are up and running already, beginning on Monday (July 20) and ending today (July 24). Each day, two paintings are pitched into battle against each other from 5pm for you to make your choice.

Clifford’s Tower, York, 1952-53, by L S Lowry, chosen by senior curator Dr Beatrice Bertram for the Views of York & Yorkshire exhibition at York Art Gallery. © The Estate of L S Lowry. Picture: York Museums Trust

Senior curator Dr Beatrice Bertram says: “We’re really excited to be re-opening our galleries and welcoming people back to come and see the wonderful art in our collections. 

“We thought what better way to re-open than by giving our audiences the opportunity to choose the paintings they want to see. We hope as many people as possible will vote for their favourites through the online survey or the Twitter polls and also write a few words about one specific work, telling us why it means so much to them.

“We can’t wait to see which choices you make in what will be a truly fascinating exhibition of work curated by you.”

The online vote will involve 20 of the “most famous and popular works from the gallery’s permanent collection”, but none of them on display prior to lockdown, from L S Lowry to David Hockney; William Etty to fellow York artist Albert Moore.

The ten most popular works from the poll will feature in the show, with accompanying labels written by voters. The winners will be announced online on July 30.

“We can’t wait to see which choices you make in what will be a truly fascinating exhibition of work curated by you,” says York Art Gallery senior curator Dr Beatrice Bertram

These works and the Twitter top five will be shown alongside five paintings chosen by the Friends of York Art Gallery from ten works, as well as a new John Atkinson Grimshaw acquisition and curators’ favourites.

Several entries by the gallery into York Museums Trust’s Curator Battles on Twitter, run throughout lockdown, also will be included.

A second show will open on August 20 too, Views of York & Yorkshire, curated by Dr Bertram for the central Madsen Gallery.

Much-loved paintings and works on paper depicting York and the surrounding countryside will go on show. L S Lowry’s Clifford’s Tower, William Etty’s Monk Bar, York, William Marlow’s The Old Ouse Bridge and Michael Angelo Rooker’s Layerthorpe Postern, York, present contrasting views of the heart of the city.

Ethel Walker’s Robin Hood’s Bay In Winter, J M W Turner’s The Dormitory and Transept of Fountains Abbey  Evening and Joseph Alfred Terry’s Underhill Farm, Sleights, capture picturesque rural and coastal scenes beyond the city walls.

The Old Ouse Bridge, by William Marlow, 1758-1768, from the upcoming Views of York & Yorkshire exhibition. Picture: York Art Gallery,.

The Friends of York Art Gallery have provided the funding for the conservation of prints of York Minster dating from the first half of the 19th century, now to be displayed for the first time, revealing shifting perspectives of the cathedral. 

Look out, too, for a new acquisition, Rievaulx Abbey by Yorkshire-born artist Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding. “We acquired it last year and have been waiting for the perfect opportunity to display it,” says Beatrice.

“The city of York and the beautiful coast and countryside beyond have long been a source of inspiration for artists,” she adds. “We wanted to mark our re-opening with an exhibition of some of our most famous topographical scenes, such as L.S. Lowry’s striking painting of Clifford’s Tower, which York Art Gallery commissioned for the Evelyn Award in 1952. 

“Thanks to the Friends of York Art Gallery, we’re able to showcase a selection of characterful watercolours and prints by artists including John Varley, Thomas Rowlandson and Thomas Shotter Boys, which illustrate York Minster and its environs during the first half of the 19th century. 

“Collectively, the artworks featured in the show paint a picture of the city and its locale from 1758 to the present day – peaceful vistas which have an enduring resonance during these turbulent, challenging times.” 

Bi-, by Harland Miller, 2017, taking up residency in the Burton Gallery at York Art Gallery after featuring in his Covid-curtailed York, So Good They Named It Once show

Beatrice stresses: “We may have been closed but the work here hasn’t stopped, and we saw these two exhibitions as an opportunity to think about the past, present and future of collecting.

“We did have to look at our programming for when we would re-open as there were shows that were due to go ahead, such as Bloom [for the York flower festival], that had to be cancelled, and due to the complexity of so many loans, we couldn’t seek to extend the run of Harland Miller’s very successful York, So Good They Named It Once show.

“The good news is that Bi-, his 2017 work from that show, will continue to be shown, in the Burton Gallery, and we’ll have some Harland Miller retail available, which we’ll be deciding by August 1.”

The Gillian Lowndes: At The Edge exhibition will resume in the Centre of Ceramic Art, where the run of the Children Curate show in the Anthony Shaw Space is being extended too. The Aesthetica Art Prize show will remain in situ until next spring in the Upper North Gallery.

Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years should have been the ceramics highlight of the CoCA summer, but the June 12 to September 20 run was crocked by Covid’s intervention.

“We’re still hoping to host that exhibition down the line, with further details to come,” promises Beatrice.

Cocktail Party, 1989, by Grayson Perry, from The Pre-Therapy Years show that should have been running at CoCA, York Art Gallery, from June 12, but now will be re-scheduled. Picture: Victoria Miro

The Pre-Therapy Years brings together 70 Perry early works made between 1982 and 1994, now re-united through a “crowd-sourced” public appeal that will put these “lost pots” on display for the first time since they were made. Themes to be found in his later work – fetishism, gender, class, his home county of Essex and the vagaries of the art world – appear in these nascent pieces, suffused with kinetic energy.

For more information on the new displays and how to visit, with booking required, go to yorkartgallery.org.uk. 

The 20 works that must be whittled down to ten in the public vote:

Barbara Hepworth, Surgeon Waiting, 1948, oil and graphite on paper

Albert Joseph Moore, A Venus, 1869, oil on canvas

Richard Jack, The Return To The Front, Victoria Railway Station, 1916, oil on canvas

Spencer Gore, The Balcony At The Alhambra, 1911-1912, oil on canvas

Paul Nash, Winter Sea, 1925-1937, oil on canvas

Bridget Riley, Study 4 for Painting With Two Verticals, 2004, watercolour

Stanley Spencer, The Deposition and Rolling Away Of The Stone, 1956, oil on canvas

Heading for Your Art Gallery….or not? Egyptian Head Disappearing Into Descending Clouds, oil on canvas, by David Hockney

Barbara McKenzie-Smith, The Bird Cage, unknown date, oil on canvas

Giovanni Antonio Burrini, Diana And Endymion, 1681-1691, oil on canvas

Alfred Walter Bayes, Day Dreams, 1902-1903, oil on canvas

Henry Scott Tuke, The Misses Santley, 1880, oil on canvas

Paul Maitland, Cheyne Walk In Sunshine, 1887-1888, oil on canvas

David Bomberg, The Bath, 1922, oil on canvas

L S Lowry, The Bandstand, Peel Park, Salford, 1931, oil on canvas

Bernardo Cavallino, St Agatha, 1635-1645, oil on canvas

Henri Fantin-Latour, White Roses, 1875, oil on canvas

David Hockney, Egyptian Head Disappearing Into Descending Clouds, 1961, oil on canvas

Harold Gilman, Beechwood Gloucestershire, 1914-1919, oil on canvas

William Etty, Venus And Cupid, c.1830, oil on canvas

Eugene-Gabriel Isabey, Boat In A Storm, 1851-1857, oil on canvas

No re-opening for Harland Miller’s Pelican dust covers at York Art Gallery. End of story

Not coming back: Harland Miller’s York, So Good They Named It Once exhibition, featuring his mock Penguin dust jackets, is now a closed book. The end.

ALAS, here is not-so-good news on Harland Miller’s Coronavirus-stymied exhibition, York, So Good They Named It Once, at York Art Gallery.

Government pandemic strictures meant the show ground to a halt little over a month into its run from February 14 to May 31, and now confirmation has come that there will be no second life in Miller’s home city for the tragi-comic Pop artist’s biggest-ever solo exhibition, once the gallery re-opens.

Tentative exploratory discussions had been held with exhibition partners White Cube, his London agents. However, today York Art Gallery announced: “Unfortunately, because of the complexities of arranging an exhibition of this kind, it has not been possible to extend the run of the show. 

“The team at York Art Gallery are working hard behind the scenes to bring you fantastic, thought-provoking and inspiring art when we reopen in the coming months. More details of these exhibitions and events will be published on our website and social media very soon.”

Today should have marked the opening of Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years in the Exhibition Square gallery’s Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA): a show of the earliest works and “lost pots” by the Turner Prize-winning, transvestite Essex artist, potter, writer and broadcaster, latterly the host of Channel 4’s “boredom-busting” lockdown art-making series, Grayson’s Art Club.

Cocktail Party 1989, copyright Grayson Perry/Victoria Miro, from the Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years exhibition, whose opening at CoCA, York Art Gallery, was in the diary for June 12 2020

Talks are “on-going” with York Museums Trust’s exhibition partners over what may happen to Perry’s show, not least because The Pre-Therapy Years is scheduled to move on to other venues.

Whenever it hopefully does still run in York, Perry’s show assembles lost creations for gallery display for the first time, not least 70 ceramics crowd-sourced after a national public appeal: a cause for celebration for the Royal Academician Perry.

“This show has been such a joy to put together, I am really looking forward to seeing these early works again, many of which I have not seen since the Eighties,” he says. “It is 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.”

Watch this space for news of the fate of Perry’s pots and indeed the delayed progress of the Richard III portrait from the National Portrait Gallery to the Yorkshire Museum, Museum Gardens.

Harland Miller’s York, So Good They Named It Once was four years in the talking and curating, bringing together his best-known series, the Penguin Book Covers and the Pelican Bad Weather Paintings, complemented by his Letter Paintings and new works.

Harland Miller’s Who Cares Wins (2020): Raised £1.25 million for Covid-19 frontline carers from sales of 250 prints. Copyright: Hatrland Miller/White Cube

At the heart of a show full of deadpan humour and one-liners were works referring directly to the 56-year-old artist’s relationship with York, the city where he was born and grew up before moving to London, as well as making wider reference to the culture and geography of Yorkshire as a whole.

“If you’re wondering why I’m wearing dark glasses inside in February,” he said at the launch, “It’s because these works are so bright!”

Alas, York Art Gallery went dark, shut down as Coronavirus took hold. In April, Miller revealed he was “nursing mercifully mild symptoms of Covid-19”, coinciding with White Cube selling all 250 editions of his print, Who Cares Wins (2020), created in the familiar style of his mock Penguin dust covers, for £5,000 each, raising £1.25 million in under 24 hours for carers working on the pandemic frontline.

Sale proceeds have been donated to the National Emergencies Trust in Britain, the New York Community Trust and HandsOn Hong Kong. Part of the UK funds have gone to the York Teaching Hospital Charity to support NHS staff in hospitals across Yorkshire – a positive ending to this particular Miller’s tale.

Harland Miller’s tale as we enter what would have been the last week of his York show…

Harland Miller in a quiet moment of coffee reflection at the February 21 opening of his homecoming York Art Gallery exhibition, later curtailed by the Covid-19 lockdown. Picture: Charlotte Graham

THIS week should have been the last chance to see York tragic-comic Pop artist and writer Harland Miller’s largest ever solo exhibition in his home city.

Four years in the talking and curating, Harland Miller: York, So Good They Named It Once was due to run at York Art Gallery from February 21 to May 31 2020, but then Covid-19 determined that the shutters should come down in the latter pages of March’s diary.

All artistic eyes may now be on Grayson Perry’s Channel 4 Monday night series Grayson’s Art Club, but here is one last opportunity to hear Miller’s tale, if you alas never saw the show featuring his best-known series, the Penguin Book Covers and the Pelican Bad Weather Paintings.

These works directly refer to the 56-year-old artist’s relationship with York, the city where he was born and grew up before moving to London, as well as making wider reference to the culture and geography of Yorkshire as a whole.

The titles are all sardonic statements on life: for example, York, So Good They Named It Once; Whitby – The Self Catering Years; Rags to Polyester – My Story and Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore.

In these works, he marries aspects of Pop Art, abstraction and figurative painting with a writer’s love of text, using his own phrases, some humorous and absurd, others marked by a lush melancholia.

In addition to the dust-jacket paintings, Miller was showing works from his recent Letter Painting series: canvasses made up of overlaid letters to form short words or acronyms in a format inspired by the illuminated letters of medieval manuscripts.

“I wanted to go as far the other way as possible and use just one word, one short word at that, and see if that word would convey as much as a whole sentence,” he says.  “I hoped the answer to this would be ‘yes’. In fact that was one of the first words I painted. YES.”

Significantly, Harland has not done a NO: testament to all that positivity the new works exude.

“If you’re wondering why I’m wearing dark glasses inside in February,” he said at the launch, “It’s because these works are so bright!”

“If you’re wondering why I’m wearing dark glasses inside, it’s because these works are so bright,” says Harland Miller. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Here Harland Miller answers a series of questions on York, art and more besides.

What do you recall of growing up in Yorkshire?

“Well…for me…looking back on it, it seems like it was great! Idyllic even. But can it have been? Really? I dunno. I understand nostalgia – the way that works, because it’s one of the main themes in my own work – so, when I look back, I do try not to get caught up in it. I think it’s just inevitable that you do, though.

“I mean I think its counter-intuitive to reminisce about the bad times…isn’t it? I think the key phrase is ‘growing up’ because – yes, there were definitely things happening that were not great and must have worried my mum and dad… like, say, the power cuts for instance

“But as a kid – growing up I only remember the [Three Day Week] black-outs as being great! I even looked forwards to them and was sad when the power came back on and showed up all the cracks.

“I think it was because, y’know, mainly, it was a time when the family were all together. I was the youngest of three. My brother Baz was ten years older (still is), so when I was like eight, he was 18 and out on his motorbike with his gang of biker mates called The Ton Up Gang.

“The Ton was slang for doing 100mph and back in those days wearing a helmet was not yet compulsory… so pretty stressful for my mum, I think.

“My sister Helen, she was five years older than me (and sadly died at 46, so is now not still five years older – in fact I’m now ten years older than she will ever be – but in my mind she is still my big sister, just as she was when she was 13 and seemed like quite the grown-up,  going to discos and the like).

“The Bop, I recall, in New Earswick was one such spot. And the Cats Whiskers up Fulford Road way. Such evocative names. I used to think, ‘Wow, Cats Whiskers! The Bop…Thee Bop! Wow! Must be so wild!”

“Maybe it was. I never went. I was too young to even hang round street corners then. So, I’d be in watching telly. Watching one of the three channels, one of which was BBC2, which didn’t ever seem to really broadcast anything apart from the test card.

“A young girl with a toy clown, I think. She’ll be getting on now, I imagine, that girl. But a little like my sister, she’s frozen in time – not just at that age but frozen in an era.

“Anyway, the point is that as a family we were all doing different things, and so I remember the ‘black-out’ bringing us all together round the kitchen table, playing these never-ending games of Monopoly by candlelight.

Ace! Becky Gee, curator of fine art at York Art Gallery, stands by a work that sums up the public reaction to Harland Miller’s biggest ever solo show. Picture: Charlotte Graham

“I loved that but, like I say, that was my experience of it. If that were happening now, I’d spend the whole black-out thinking, ‘Where is this heading?’ and my younger self might be in a bad mood because he couldn’t charge his phone.

“There were unadulterated good times too though, like ‘Factory Fortnight’. My dad worked at Rowntrees on Black Magic and in the summer we would go to Scarborough for a week and take a chalet on the front. That really was magic.

“I feel so sad when I go back and see some of those chalets all boarded up or vandalised – I mean who’d vandalise a chalet? How tough do you have to be to vandalise a chalet? Go and vandalise the offices of the person who decided to concrete over one of the best Art Deco pools I’ve ever seen on the South Bay – that was a criminal act! It’s now a roller-skating rink and I’ve never seen anyone on there roller skating.

“Anyway, apart from that, it’s hard to summarise a childhood in a few words but if pushed, I’d say – on very careful consideration and without bias – Yorkshire was the best place to grow up in the solar system!”

What are your memories of your early life as an artist?

“It began when I was at school. I was in a kind of remedial class called Peanuts and the aim was just to get through it. There were only two of us in it and we both liked and had some aptitude for art, so the school at some level decided to make every lesson an art lesson.

“But because there had to be a practical application to everything, I was asked to turn my talents to making some ‘Keep Our School Tidy’ posters. This was the first commission I ever had and led to many more

“After the posters were put up all around school, they proved a big hit and the hardest kid at the school asked me…asked me! Ha!…told me he wanted me to paint ‘Shakin’ Stevens’ on his denim jacket, I did. No choice really.

“That was a big hit too and from that I got a lot more commissions, not just from Shaky fans but Mods, Rockers, Punks, Soulies (those into Northern Soul) and guys into CB Radio (these were all guys as well – no girls into CB for some reason) and many more types besides.

“The prices were five quid for a denim jacket; more for a leather. Tenner for a lid. £12 for a full lid. Pretty soon I was making more than the teachers and I saw that you could do the thing that everyone said you could not – which was make a living as an artist.”

Wall to wall Harland Miller at York Arty Gallery. Picture: Charlotte Graham

How have York and Yorkshire influenced your work?

“I could best describe this in a way by talking, not about my art, but another artist’s work who’s also from Yorkshire: David Hockney.  When Hockney was in England, he made paintings about Typhoo Tea and when he arrived in LA [Los Angeles], he was amazed and enthralled – if they are not the same thing – to see that people had swimming pools in their back gardens.

“It was as commonplace a thing to them as his mother’s back yard was to him. Consequently, because they were commonplace, nobody had ever thought about painting the pools under their noses, so to speak!

“But it took a guy coming from Yorkshire to say, ‘Wow, I’m gonna paint this…this isn’t real…I must be dreaming’ and in point of fact, there is that surreal quality to those works, I think.

“I suppose I’m presenting that old cliche of ‘taking the Yorkshireman out of Yorkshire’.  How’s it go? Y’know what I mean though? You can take the Yorkshireman out of Yorkshire.

“Also, my dad Ned, was something of a self-styled Communist. I remember waking past a restaurant with him and him looking in and saying, ‘Some of these fellas think nothing about having a glass of wine’.

“I recall thinking to myself, ‘Yeah…I’d like to think nothing about having a glass of wine too, instead of listening to you talking about central planning’, and in the spirit of rebellion, I told him I was moving to London.

‘What you gonna do there?’, he said. “It’s a pound for a cup of tea!” I replied that I was quite done with tea and all that and was gonna be living it up…on wine!”

Exit Yorkshire, enter Chelsea School of Art. What happened?

“When I got to London, it was borne in on me – almost immediately – not just how much I missed tea, but just exactly who I was.  Suffice to say, if I’d stayed in Yorkshire, I don’t think I would have made the Bad Weather Paintings, which are many things…many things… but high among those things, they are clearly celebratory.

“They are satire too, sure, but I am – I’ve been told – unusual in that I like bad weather, within reason of course.

“A while back a doctor told me ‘one bit of good news’ was my body stored vitamin D to an unusual degree, so I can go for a long time without biologically missing the sun…so I guess that could account for being immune to drizzle.

“And, if it’s not stretching it too much to say it’s there, is also that sense of identity with Yorkshire. We could call it ‘Vitamin Y’ maybe, something I store and carry around with me.

“Of course, I need to see the sun every now and then and I need to come back to Yorkshire intermittently too – though actually I come back a fair bit. Most of my family are still here.”

Harland Miller: Back home in the city that inspired his spoof Pelican book title. Picture: Charlotte Graham

How and why do you use text so prominently in your work?

“I can explain that best in the series from which the York painting [York, So Good They Named It Once] comes because, in this series, more than the other book paintings, I’ve tried to paint them in a way that evokes the subject which is suggested in the title.

“With the Bad Weather theme of course that style pretty much suggests itself and the properties of paint can be handled to evoke the sense of rain running down window panes, heavy sea, heavy cloud, indeterminable drizzle.

“Artists often talk about ‘light’ and they follow the light to St Ives or Florence or somewhere, but these paintings are the opposite of that, I think. They are more about, I don’t want to say the dark internal stuff, but can I say that anyway? Maybe I actually mean introspection.

“And maybe that’s maybe why people have this personal connection to the work, because it provides a moment of introspection.

“Humour also can break a form of tension that arises when looking at a work of art in a formal space. And this is important, this laughter thing, because after that tension is broken, there is a freedom behind it, I think, and that happens very rarely. Indeed, most artists would be pretty affronted if you laughed at their work.

“People used to write me and ask me what my work meant:  this was when it was abstract, and actually they used to ask what the hell it meant, but since I’ve been making work in which there is text – words, a suggested narrative – people write me and tell me what my work means to them!

“This is great because it obviously saves me the bother, but moreover, these stories are often incredibly personal and intimate and I never would ever want to say anything that might spoil or override the meaning that they had given it.

“Was it Samuel Beckett who said, ‘It means whatever you want it to mean’ in relation to Waiting For Godot? I really loved that feeling of a stripped-back set of references, park bench, two guys… the way it elevates the mundane…and waiting and waiting and that sense of an endless beginning.

“I thought, when I saw it, which was admittedly when I was 15, it was very positive and I hope that’s a sense that these paintings have too: a suggested narrative, a starting point.

“I mean there’s an obvious reference here to the moment you’re holding a book in your hand and contemplating the cover and the title too…and the story waiting for you inside…but I’m also playing with scale as an implied comment on the content of the book.” 

Artist Harland Miller removes his glasses at York Art Gallery. Picture: Charlotte Graham

How was this solo show in York curated?

“Though we discussed many approaches and different styles of work to be included, it was obvious to all of us that the show was always going to be hung around the Bad Weather Paintings about Yorkshire towns – and it is!

“This series has been collected internationally, which is just wonderful to think of. Some of them I hadn’t seen since they left the studio. I happen to know, for example, the Bridlington painting is on permanent display in Texas – arid Texas! – so it only seemed right that they at some point should be shown here in York at the York City Art Gallery, the place where I first encountered painting. It’s great to see that painting in York.

“I’m not even going to say it’s a dream come true to show here because, back then, when I was a kid sneaking round the gallery feeling like I didn’t belong, it was actually beyond my wildest dreams to be showing here.

“And I think it’s been curated in that spirit – in the spirit of celebration… but also of the future. Even away from even away from the Bad Weather Paintings, the works we have chosen have been more positive examples of what’s on offer.

“This is ironic, really, as the one place on Earth where the black humour in the work is understood and will not get me misinterpreted is here in Yorkshire, but maybe we’ve second-guessed that.

“Even the Hell paintings are positive, and I think, I hope, the visitor will leave with a kind of an UP feeling.

“In fact UP is one of the letter paintings from the latest series. The name I’ve given the series, Letter Paintings, is a bit flat, I must say, but it literally comes from the illuminated letters that you find in a medieval manuscripts, which seem to need no extra fanfare!

“These letters were painstakingly hand drawn and coloured by the monks, where the first letter of the first word in these manuscripts were always given this highly detailed embellishment. It works as an intensifier really. It gives a fanfare to the page, to the first line.

“When I left school, I happened to be one 0-level short of the five you needed to get into art school and so they asked me if I wanted to come on the course and while there go to night school and take the requisite qualifications to stay on the course.

“I said ‘yes’ and was amazed you could take an A-level in lettering. That was how and when I encountered the monks’ art in detail for the first time. I loved it and actually rendered one of these illuminated letters for my final exam, I recall.

“My background in copying all sorts of heavy metal type fonts on to the backs of denim jackets really stood me in good stead for making a painting on parchment and it gave me a practised hand for rendering lettering too.

“But the best thing was it gave me a life-long appreciation of type faces and the art of hand lettering, For a while, I wanted to be a sign painter: a guy who went around painting those swinging signs you get above pub doorways in the country.

“But the other the thing I wanted to do, in this new series, was to try and convey a story – encapsulate a narrative – but not in an aphorism or maxim but in a single word.

“I wanted to go as far the other way as possible and use just one word, one short word at that, and see if that word would convey as much as a whole sentence. 

“I hoped the answer to this would be ‘yes’. In fact that was one of the first words I painted. YES.”

Back to front: Harland Miller walks towards his Pelican Books spoof cover York, So Good They Named It Once. Picture: Charlotte Graham

What are you saying about York in that picture title on a retro book cover, York, So Good They Named It Once, now replicated on posters, mugs, key rings, fridge magnets and tote bags?

“People have thought ‘York, So Good They Named It Once’ must be satirical, comparing York to New York, whereas I thought I was riffing on York being first; being very important way before New York – and being a Roman capital too.

“It was also a place of so many firsts for me; where I did my first paper round, and through these streets I can go and remember things that happened to me. Like my first kiss on some old wasteland on Taddy Road [Tadcaster Road], that’s now a Tesco.

“And just round the corner from here, behind the library, I smoked my first joint. That’s why I got hooked on books…because I was by the library!

“This gallery is where I first saw paintings. Is it a dream to be back here? The answer is ‘No’, because, as a boy, it would have been foolish to dream of such a thing.”

What was Penguin’s initial reaction to your York artwork and other Penguin Book Covers?

“I tried to get Penguin to come round to it, but they were talking of suing me. But then in came a new CEO, John Makinson, who was a bit groovier than the previous one!

“The new CEO had received a picture of the York painting, and when Stephen Fry said ‘what nonsense to sue him, we need to back him’, it made an impact, so I have to say thank you to Stephen.

“I thought I was being invited to Penguin to get sued, but it went from that to being invited to lunch and John said, ‘I’d really like to commission something from you’. I was there with my [art] dealer Jay Jopling, from White Cube, and it became a commission for 14 works for their foyers etc.

“It was great not to be sued, but then maybe I felt it lost its edge, but I enjoy doing them so much and I’ve never said I’ll not do another one.”

Death, What’s in it For Me?, by Harland Miller, oil on canvas, 2007, copyright Harland Miller, Photo copyright: White Cube (Stephen White)

Why is Blackpool included in your Bad Weather Paintings series when all the others feature Yorkshire places such as Whitby, Scarborough, Bridlington and Sandsend?

“Blackpool is the exception that proves the rule! As a child I just assumed Blackpool was in Yorkshire because we only ever went to Yorkshire!

“What inspired that series is I remember there was a kind of re-branding of Britain going on in the 1980s, and I wondered if it was all being done from London, as it was chronic, and I thought ‘why can’t it be done in-house?’.

“I set about re-branding Yorkshire seaside towns and villages, but to say it wasn’t necessary because they retained their charm and didn’t need a Balearic feel to their branding as it doesn’t suit these towns with all their rain! I remember sheltering under kagools in the 1970s, and that’s what these paintings are a homage to.”

Words first, then imagery?

“Once I’ve decided on the text, then I’ll decide on how to paint them, but once I’m painting, then I lose the sense of what the words say and I’m just making sure it works as a painting.

“In fact, I have a wall of text in my studio that I can’t use because I can’t make the words work graphically.

“But I also know that if people don’t like the words, they won’t like the painting.”

Why do you enjoy playing with words?

“I like how by changing one letter, or one word, you can change the whole meaning, like ‘Have Faith In Cod’ for Scarborough or ‘Something Tells Me Nothing’s Going To Happen Tonight’ for Bridlington.

“When I lost my sister Helen, she requested her ashes be scattered in Scarborough, and the next morning there was a sea fret, and I remember looking out over the sea, and on the sand was written Have Faith In Cod, and when a dog ran through it, it changed it to God. It seemed apt. Helen did have faith in God…and in cod.”

The Miller’s tale: Harland Miller is writing his memoir. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Aside from painting, what else are you working on, Harland?

“I’m writing a memoir at the moment. In fact I’m way behind with it; I’m currently nine years old dreading being ten.

“Some people turn pale when I say I’m writing my memoir, which at first wasn’t an encouraging reaction, but they later explained they thought this was something that one did when one was nearing one’s end,  when the doctor has told you to get your affairs in order or, y’know, ‘not buy an LP’.

“But I think it’s not a bad idea to start it around now. I’m 56 and I think I’ve still got really good recall but that could change at any time, and it would be pretty – make that  very – frustrating to write a life story if you couldn’t remember any of it. That’s the way my dad went – with the Alzheimer’s. So distressing.  

“That’s why it was originally titled I’ll Never Forget What I Can’t Remember, but as I’m chronically superstitious, I’ve changed it to One Bar Electric Memoir.

“When I left home 37 years ago, my mum gave me a one-bar electric heater. It had frayed pre-war wiring and no handle, which made it very hard to carry. She said ‘there was no mad rush to bring it back’. It’s the one thing that’s been everywhere with me and, actually, I’ve still got it. It’s very reassuring.

“I plug it in when I’m writing and, as the filament heats up, it gives off this smell of, well, of a filament heating up, but it takes me right back to a million bedsits, almost more than the reflective dish behind, which gives off this insane orange reflection. It actually does feel like I’m plugging into the past.”

Luv action: Charles Hutchinson and Celestine Dubruel at the Harland Miller exhibition launch

Did you know?

Harland Miller designed the wedding invitation for pop star Ellie Goulding and art dealer Caspar Jopling’s service at York Minster in August 2019. “I’m her favourite artist,” says Harland.

Nothing happening in these Lockdown limbo days. Everything off. Here are 10 Things To Do on the home front, courtesy of The Press, York. LIST No. 5

Nothing happening full stop. Now, with time on your frequently washed hands, home is where the art is and plenty else besides

Exit 10 Things To See Next Week in York and beyond for the unforeseeable future in Lockdown hibernation. Enter home entertainment, wherever you may be, whether together or in self-isolation, in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic. From behind his closed door, CHARLES HUTCHINSON makes these suggestions.

Street protest: The Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes cast on the march from York Minster Plaza to York Theatre Royal in 2017. Picture: Anthony Robling

Streaming of Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes, York Theatre Royal Collective Arts programme

YORK Theatre Royal is streaming the 2017 community play Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes for free on its YouTube channel until May 31.

Co-produced with Pilot Theatre, this outdoor and indoor production was performed by a community cast of 150 and a choir of 80, taking the form of a  protest play that recalled how women in York ran safe houses, organised meetings, smashed windows and fire-bombed pillar boxes as part of the early 20th century Suffragette movement.

“Now the stage is dark and the streets are empty, but looking back to the way in which that show brought people together, inspiring them in so many ways, is a wonderful reminder of the power of theatre and community,” says playwright Bridget Foreman.

Whispers From The Museum: the new mystery adventure from Scarborough Museums Trust

Whispers From The Museum, online mystery adventures for children

ADVENTUROUS youngsters can solve a new online mystery, Whispers From The Museum, set at Scarborough Art Gallery and Rotunda Museum, from May 12. The buildings may be closed under the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions but strange messages have been appearing inside. Who or what is making them and what are they trying to tell us?

For six weeks, young people – and their grown-ups – can uncover stories about assorted Scarborough Museums Trust objects by completing online missions and challenges from their own home, set by Scarborough artist Kirsty Harris.

The stream team: Your Place Comedy double bill Simon Brodkin and Maisie Adam, performing from their living room to yours

Your Place Comedy, streamed from their living rooms to yours

AT the initiation of Selby Town Hall arts centre manager Chris Jones, here comes gig two of Your Place Comedy, a Sunday night when comedians stream a live show via YouTube and Twitch from their living room into yours from 8pm. There is no charge, but you can make donations to be split between the ten small, independent northern venues that have come together for this Lockdown fundraising scheme.

After Hull humorist Lucy Beaumont and a pyjama-clad Mark Watson in the inaugural online gig, this weekend’s stream team will be Theresa May’s Tory conference P45 prankster Simon Brodkin and Harrogate’s Maisie Adam, as seen from home previously on last Friday’s Have I Got News For You.

Grayson Perry with his teddy bear Alan Measles on a visit to York in May 2014 to open the Meet The Museums Bears event

Inspired by Grayson’s Art Club on Channel 4…

IF you have enjoyed Grayson Perry’s convivial call to art, Grayson’s Art Club, on Channel 4 on Monday nights, with portraits and animals as the two subjects so far, seek out the “Ultimate Artists’ Activity Pack”.

This downloadable artist activity pack is suitable for children and adults alike, with Grayson among the contributing artists. So too are Ampleforth College alumnus Antony Gormley, Mark Wallinger, Michael Landy, Gillian Wearing and Jeremy Deller.

The Art Is Where The Home Is pack is the creation of Sandy Shaw, director of the Firstsite Gallery in Colchester, who says the activities should be fun, done on A4 paper and ideally shared.

Drag diva Velma Celli’s poster for Large & Lit In Lockdown, her next online show

What next for Velma Celli, York’s drag diva?

AFTER last weekend’s concert streamed from a Bishopthorpe kitchen in aid of St Leonard’s Hospice, York’s international drag diva Velma Celli has confirmed another such online extravaganza.

Large & Lit In Lockdown will be large and live at 8pm on May 16. “All you need to do is get your tickets from the link below and a live link will arrive in your email inbox on the day of the show.

“Click on it at show time and BOOM! There she is,” says Velma, the spectacular singing creation of Ian Stroughair. Tap in: https://www.ticketweb.uk/event/velma-celli-large-secret-york-venue-tickets/10581785.

Activity of the week: Rearranging your bookshelves

THANKS to Zoom and all manner of online visual services, placing yourself in front of your bookshelves is becoming the new normal, as tracked by the Bookcase Credibility Twitter feed, @BCredibility.

You may not go as far as J K Rowling, who re-arranged her books in colour sequences, but this is the chance to both gut your book collection and to find new ways to categorise those shelves, more imaginatively than merely alphabetically. This is spring cleaning with a new purpose.

Romesh Ranganathan: Rearranged York Barbican date

Still keep trying to find good news

POCKLINGTON’S Platform Festival in July, off. More York Races meetings, a non-runner. Deadpan comedian Romesh Ranganathan on Sunday at York Barbican, off; Whitby Fish & Ships Festival next weekend; the chips are down, alas. The list of cancellations grows like the wisteria adorning York’s houses this month, but you should keep visiting websites for updates.

Platform Festival? Negotiations are underway to move as many acts as possible to next summer. Romesh? His show, The Cynics Mixtape, is in the 2021 diary for May 15, still without an apostrophe in its title. Fish & Ships?  Sailing into harbour next May. York Races? Further updates awaited.

Woodland bluebells , Spring 2020

Venturing outdoors…

…FOR your daily exercise, be that a run, a cycle ride or a stroll near home, in a changing environment. If your route allows, check out the bluebells, now a glorious woodland haze, and the rhododendrons, bursting through too. In Rowntree Park, the ducklings are taking to the water, no need for armbands. Thank you, nature and the natural world, for keeping up our spirits.

Clap for Carers

STAND by your doors at 8pm every Thursday, no excuses. Theatre-goers, concert-goers, save your hand-clapping for our NHS doctors, hospital staff, carers, volunteers and key workers. How moving, too, to see familiar buildings bathed in blue light: a glowing tribute growing by the week.

Louis Theroux: New BBC radio series of interviews in lockdown

And what about…

NEW albums by The Strokes (the uncannily titled The New Abnormal); Lucinda Williams, Car Seat Headrest and Damien Jurado. Michael Henderson’s new state-of-the-nation book That Will Be England Gone, The Last Summer Of Cricket. The TV adaptation of Normal People, Sally Rooney’s story of complicated Millennial teenage love, directed by Room filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson on BBC Three, One and iPlayer. Louis Theroux’s lockdown interview series, Grounded, on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Sounds. Parsnips, however you cook them.

Copyright of The Press, York

Grayson Perry launches Art Club on Channel 4 as York Art Gallery awaits lockdown fate of Pre-Therapy Years show

Grayson Perry: Battling the boredom of lockdown, armed with art

TURNER Prize winner Grayson Perry launches Grayson’s Art Club, his pledge to “battle the boredom” of the Coronavirus lockdown through art, on Channel 4 tonight.

The Essex transvestite artist, potter, broadcaster and writer will be taking viewers on a journey of artistic discovery in a six-part series of themed shows designed to encourage you to make your own work in the new normal of isolation.

This was the year when Perry’s “lost pots” should have been the centre of attention in York from June 12 to September 20 in the Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years exhibition at York Art Gallery.

Watch this space for any update on what may yet happen. In the meantime, York Museums Trust is in discussion with its partners for The Pre-Therapy Years, an exhibition that is scheduled to move on to other venues.

Cocktail Party 1989, copyright Grayson Perry/Victoria Miro, from the Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years exhibition, whose opening at CoCA, York Art Gallery, was in the diary for June 12 2020

Back to Grayson’s Art Club. Through the magic of video call, in tonight’s first episode broadcast from his London workshop at 8pm, 60-year-old Perry will address the theme of Portrait with large-scale figurative painter Chantal Joffe and comedian and campaigning presenter Joe Lycett, who has taken to trying his hand at portraiture during lockdown.

For episode two, focusing on animal art, Grayson’s online guests will be British painter and sculptor Maggi Hambling and comedian and TV show host Harry Hill.

Ampleforth College alumnus and Angel Of The North sculptor Antony Gormley and comedian and comedy actor Jessica Hynes will pop up in episode three.

Episode four will feature artist Tacita Dean and comedian cum surrealist artist Vic Reeves, aka Jim Moir, creator and curator of the £500,000 Vic Reeves’ Wonderland for the 2012 Illuminating York festival of light and sound.

Vic Reeves, aka Jim Moir, at the opening of Vic Reeves’ Wonderland, his surrealist 2012 Illuminating York creation

Further guests will be announced later for an interactive series that will climax with an exhibition of works made by both the public and Perry’s celebrity guests as a “chronicle of Britain’s mood and creativity in isolation”.

Whenever it does run in York, Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years comprises his earliest works and “lost pots”, including 70 ceramics crowd-sourced after a national public appeal.

Presented in York Art Gallery’s Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA), this exhibition will be the first time these lost Perry creations have been assembled for display together, a cause for celebration for the Royal Academician Grayson.

“This show has been such a joy to put together, I am really looking forward to seeing these early works again, many of which I have not seen since the Eighties,” he says.

Grayson Perry’s Melanie, one of his Three Graces, exhibited at CoCA

“It is 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.”

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 York Museums Trust’s curator of ceramics, Dr Helen Walsh, at the time.

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.”

In its Familiarity Golden, one of two “everywoman” tapestries from Grayson Perry’s The Essex Tapestries: The Life Of Julie Cope, on display in 2020 at Nunnington Hall

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 2003 Turner Prize winner.

No York Open Studios this weekend, but all that art still needs a new home, so look here…DAY 27

Shambles At Night, by Greg Winrow

TODAY and tomorrow should have been spent visiting other people’s homes, not staying home, for weekend two of York Open Studios 2020.

On Monday, art attention will turn to episode one of Grayson’s Art Club, a six-part Channel 4 series wherein artist Grayson Perry promises to battle the boredom of Coronavirus lockdown by taking viewers on a journey of art discovery.

From his London workshop, Perry will encourage the British public to create their own art while in isolation, built around six themed shows that will climax with an exhibition of viewers’ art.

Grayson Perry: Launching Grayson’s Art Club series on Channel 4 on Monday

Been there, done that, will continue to do that, might well be the resourceful attitude of the 144 artists and makers at 100 York locations after the Covid-19 pandemic strictures turned York Open Studios into York Shut Studios.

Over the past four weeks, CharlesHutchPress has determinedly championed the creativity of York’s artists and makers, who would have been showcasing their ceramics, collage, digital, illustration, jewellery, mixed media, painting, print, photography, sculpture and textiles skills this month.

Each day, in brochure order, five artists who now miss out on the exposure of Open Studios have been given a pen portrait on these pages, because so much art and craft will have been created for the event and still needs a new home. The last ten are being profiled over this weekend, and again home and studio addresses will not be included at this lockdown time.

York Open Studios 2020: The lost weekends that found diverse alternative ways to reach out beyond the closed doors

York Open Studios artists have responded to the shutdown by filling their windows for #openwindowsyork2020, while plenty are showcasing their work over the York Open Studios period online via their websites.

This weekend, you can visit yorkopenstudios.co.uk to take your own virtual tour. The YOS website says: “We’re doing a Virtual Open Studios, with artists posting based on a daily theme for the ten days spanning our two weekends.They’ll be showing you their studios and workshops, favourite processes, answering your questions, and of course lots of pictures of their new work.

“Search for #YorkOpenStudios anywhere on social media or follow your favourite artists to see more.”

First, however, here are five more artists and makers for you to discover. The final five will follow tomorrow.

Mim Robson: Exploring themes of memory, transition, loss, family, identity and womanhood

Mim Robson, printmaking

MIM is a multi-disciplinary artist now working primarily in printmaking and textiles, with a background in community arts engagement and land art.

“My current project uses mono-printing techniques, natural dyes, eco-printing and patchwork to explore themes of memory, transition, loss, family, identity and womanhood,” she says.

She also is working on a set of illustrated zines, small books and tiny stories, their subjects varied but “generally an expression of an idea, thought or small observations of people or notable moments”.

Mim Robson: a polymath who adds up to a multitude of artistic pursuits

Having grown up in the Yorkshire countryside, the natural world inspires her diverse artistic portfolio, whether land art and ephemeral artworks using materials from nature, such as delicate yet vibrant floral mandalas, or her short-lived beach artworks.

Inspired by sand artist Andres Amador, Mim began making large-scale sand art on the Yorkshire coast in 2016. “Using rakes to make patterns in the sand, these usually take at least three hours to complete…and a few miles of walking,” she says. “I use photography to capture these creations at their peak; they last for the rest of the day until the tide washes them away.”

Mim Robson with one of her out-with-the-tide beach artworks

Since completing a national diploma in 3D design craft at York College, she has taken assorted craft courses, learning wood carving, stained glass work and willow weaving; worked and studied in community and youth work and undertaken a degree in Creative Expressive Therapies from the University of Derby.

“This now underpins all of the creative events, Crafty Socials and art, craft and creative expressive workshops I run, as well as my art-making,” says Mim, whose making extends to darkroom and alternative photography techniques, stop-motion videos and henna tattooing at festivals and events. She even finds time for an environmental beach-clean project.

Head to mimrobson.com for more info on this PICA Studios artist.

Pickles Snoozing, drypoint mono, by Lesley Shaw

Lesley Shaw, printmaking

ARTIST and printmaker Lesley works primarily in charcoal, dip pen and ink and traditional printmaking techniques, such as linocut, mono and drypoint.

“Life drawings form the basis of all my work,” she says. “I work quickly and instinctively to capture the beauty and simplicity of the form, looking at the shape and line the body takes.”

Whether figurative or animals, her illustrative line drawings are bold, simplistic and striking, inspired by such artists as Egon Schiele, Toulouse Lautrec and Sybil Andrews of the Grosvenor School artists, who captured the spirit of 1930s’ Britain with iconic vibrant linocuts.

“I work quickly and instinctively to capture the beauty and simplicity of the form,” says Lesley Shaw

Lesley, who has a degree in illustration, lived and worked in London for more than 20 years before settling in York. She has sold work at the Mall Galleries, in London, and to the BBC and takes part in both York Open Studios and Art& in York, where she is a member of York Printmakers and the York Art Workers Association.

She works from PICA Studios, set within an 18th century printworks, now home to the workshops of around 25 artists and makers. Discover more at lesleyshaw.me.

“Suddenly everything made sense,” says Elena Skoreyko Wagner, after finding her way to illustration

Elena Skoreyko Wagner, collage

CANADIAN illustrator Elena makes bright, intimate, intricate, hand-cut paper collages.

“Using recycled bits of paper imbued with their own histories, I assemble poetic images to illustrate personal stories and emotional experiences,” she says. 

Elena completed a BFA in studio art from York University in Toronto, Canada, in 2006, then spent a decade winding her way through odd jobs, a masters in occupational therapy, a couple of overseas moves and motherhood times two en route to illustration.

“I found my way to illustration when some former professors asked me to illustrate a paediatric assessment and suddenly everything made sense,” she says.

Elena Skoreyko Wagner: “Touching gently on social issues, finding magic and uncovering meaning in the mundane”

“I now work as a freelance and make zines, as well as the colourful hand-cut collages pieced together from collected paper snippets. My work is often autobiographical, depicting women and children to touch gently on social issues, find magic and uncover meaning in the mundane.”

Elena lives in York with her economist husband and two children. “I can be found most days nestled in a nook, manifesting a rainbow tornado of paper snippets, or making equally impressive messes with my two small protégés,” she says.

Now working from PICA Studios, she would have been making her York Open Studios debut. Take a look at elenastreehouse.com.

A sculptural textile by Ealish Wilson

Ealish Wilson, textiles

EALISH has lived and worked in many places around the world, spending the past 15 years in the USA before making her way to York and now joining the PICA Studios arts hub.

However, Japan was where her work was transformed. “Japan taught me that art exploration and practice is a lifelong journey from which we constantly learn,” she says.

“Experience informs the creative process over time, enhancing and developing an artist’s expression. It’s about seeing creativity in the everyday.”

She brings this philosophy to making her sculptural textiles, using a variety of substrates and techniques, including print, drawing, photography and stitching.

Goodbye USA, hello York: Ealish Wilson after her move to Yorkshire

“I repeat this process to create multiple iterations and layers to my designs,” she says. “Much of my process investigates pattern and its transformation through surface manipulation. I use many traditional hand methods of stitching such as pleating and smocking to physically alter my original designs.

“Frequently my work starts in the digital realm: whether photographing an object or one of my own paintings, it serves as inspiration for new work. Many of my images are everyday scenes or objects of purpose that appear mundane but feature a beautiful shape or colour that’s a perfect jumping-off point to create a textile.”

2020 would have been the first year in York Open Studios for a textile designer who sees the craft of making as “my form or meditation”. Visit ealishwilson.com to see her work.

A window to Winrow ….

Greg Winrow, printmaking

GREG splits his time 50/50 producing silk screen and linocut prints covering a variety of topics in his York studio, where he uses a Hawthorne press for his lino work.

Earlier, he studied art and design in York and photography and design in Harrogate before acquiring his interest in printing techniques.

Greg Winrow at the York River Art Market

Now a keen member of the York Printmakers, taking part in their annual fair, he has exhibited too at the York River Art Market and York galleries. 2020 was to have been his second year in York Open Studios.

And finally, tomorrow: Marcus Callum; Robert Burton; Jo Walton; Emma Walsh and Northern Electric (Katie Greenbrown).

From Essex house to Nunnington Hall country pile for Grayson Perry’s tapestries

The Essex Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015) , by Grayson Perry, on the drawing room wall of Nunnington Hall from February 8

GRAYSON Perry will be Stitching The Past Together with his tapestries at Nunnington Hall, near Helmsley, from February 8.

Out go the National Trust country house’s 17th century Verdure tapestries for conservation work; in come the Essex transvestite artist, potter, broadcaster and writer’s typically colourful and thought-provoking pair of Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015).

Hanging in an historic setting for the first time in the 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 2003 Turner Prize winner.

The tapestries illustrate the key events in the heroine’s journey from her birth during the Canvey Island floods of 1953 to her untimely death in a tragic accident on a Colchester street.

Rich in cultural and architectural details, the tapestries contain a social history of Essex and modern Britain that “everyone can relate to”. 

These artworks represent, in Perry’s words, ‘the trials, tribulations, celebrations and mistakes of an average life’.

In Its Familiarity Golden: a close-up of one of Grayson Perry’s Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015)

Historically, large-scale tapestry provided insulation for grand domestic interiors. Perry, by contrast, however, has juxtaposed its associations of status, wealth and heritage with contemporary concerns of class, social aspiration and taste.

To write Julie’s biography, he looked to the English ballad and folktale tradition, narrating a life that conveys the beauty, vibrancy and contradictions of the ordinary individual. 

Laura Kennedy, Nunnington Hall’s visitor experience manager, says: “It’s extremely exciting to have The Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope Tapestries on the walls that would usually display the hall’s Verdure tapestries.

“The tapestries will hang in the drawing room amongst the historic collection, and nearby to the hall’s remaining 17th century Flemish tapestries telling the story of Achilles.”

Laura continues: “The genuine and relatable stories told through Grayson Perry’s artworks are a rich contrast to the demonstration of wealth and status reflected through many historic tapestries, including our own at Nunnington Hall.

“We’ve worked closely with the Crafts Council to bring the hangings to Nunnington and observe how these contrasting sets of tapestries are a beautiful contradiction in design, colour palette, storytelling and manufacture, illustrating the evolution of tapestries over the past four hundred years. It will also be the first time that The Essex House Tapestries have been hung in a historic setting.” 

One of the Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015), by Grayson Perry

Nunnington’s three Verdure tapestries were brought to Nunnington Hall more than 350 years ago by the 1st  Viscount Preston, Richard Graham, following his time as Charles II’s ambassador at the Court of Versailles.

Graham was appointed by King James II as the Master of the Royal Wardrobe because of his style and knowledge of Parisian fashions. He would have used these tapestries to demonstrate his good taste, wealth and status in society.

Welcoming Perry’s works to Nunnington Hall, Jonathan Wallis, curator for the National Trust, says: “It’s great to be able to show these wonderful tapestries at Nunnington. It continues our aim of bringing thought-provoking art to rural Yorkshire.

“The Life of Julie Cope is a story that we can all relate to and one which will delight, surprise and engage people. Digital devises accompany the tapestries exploring Julie’s life experiences and the reveal much of Perry’s inspirations.”

This is the first of two opportunities to see work by Grayson Perry in North Yorkshire in 2020. His earliest works and “lost pots” will be showcased in Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years from June 12 to September 20 at York Art Gallery’s Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA).

The touring exhibition, developed by the Holburne Museum in Bath, is the first to celebrate Perry’s early forays into the art world and will re-introduce the explosive and creative works he made between 1982 and 1994.

The 70 works have been crowd-sourced through a national public appeal, leading to the “lost pots” being on display together for the first time since they were made.

Cocktail Party, 1989, by Grayson Perry, on show in Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years at CoCA, York Art Gallery, from June 12

The Pre-Therapy Years exhibition 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-1980s, 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 works of kinetic energy.

Although the majority 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.

Perry says: “This show has been such a joy to put together. I am really looking forward to seeing these early works again, many of which I have not seen since the Eighties. It is 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.”

Grayson Perry’s The Essex House Tapestries: Life of Julie Cope (2015) will be on display at Nunnington Hall, Nunnington, Helmsley, from February 8 to December 20. Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10.30am to 4pm.

Nunnington Hall’s Verdure Tapestries: away for conservation work; back on display from January 2021

What’s happening to the Nunnington Hall Verdure tapestries? 

ALL three tapestries at Nunnington Hall have been taken off the walls. At various times they were sent to Belgium to be cleaned and each is being worked on by a selected conservator.

At each studio, the tapestries have been placed on to a frame with a linen scrim. The conservators are working across each tapestry, undertaking conservation stitching.

This includes closing the gaps that have appeared and replacing worn historic threads and previous conservation repairs. These stiches are placed through both the tapestry and the linen to provide extra support.

One of the conservators has estimated this work will take 740 hours. The work should be completed in the middle of 2020 to be placed back on the drawing room wall in January 2021.

Grayson Perry’s Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015) at Nunnington Hall

The story behind Grayson Perry’s Essex House Tapestries

THE Essex House Tapestries were made for A House for Essex, designed by Grayson Perry and FAT Architecture, as featured on the Channel 4 programme Grayson Perry’s Dream House.

The house was conceived as a mausoleum to Julie Cope, a fictitious Essex “everywoman”, who was inspired by the people Perry grew up among.

The tapestries are the only pair in a public collection, acquired by the Craft Council.