When you read this, we will probably know the results of a general election that’s stoked division and discord across the country, pitting rich against poor, town against town, neighbour against neighbour. The time, then, is perfect for ‘artist of the people’ Grayson Perry to present his new body of work.
Perry has long championed peeling back the elitist, “snobbish” trappings of the art world – famously using ‘decorative’ craft medium like tapestry and ceramics rather than the traditionally more grandiose painting and sculpture – and goes one step further in this show, which literally speaks for people of Britain.
Matching Pair are two large vases decorated with images suggested by the public on social media, one representing Brexiteers, the other Remainers. It’s curious, then, how similar they look, each with a blue glaze over images of things like Winston Churchill, the NHS logo and bottles of Marmite, all intermingled with beautifully drawn portraits of us regular citizens.
The tapestry Red Carpet, meanwhile, depicts a map of Britain labelled with issues again chosen through social media: “Quality of Life”; “The Real World”; “Free Wifi”.
Perry’s work is equally indebted to art historical reference (Couple Visiting Marriage Shrine is part Arnolfini Portrait, part American Gothic), as it is contemporary visual cues (Kateboard is a skateboard bearing a gold drawing of the Duchess of Cambridge). It straddles both ‘high art’ and ‘folk-art’; a bronze skull bearing a symbolic Union Jack (Head of a Fallen Giant), sits alongside a pseudo talismanic figurine called Outsider Alan, made from found objects, pebbles and shells.
Elsewhere lies Perry’s custom-made pink ‘Princess Freedom Bicycle’, an accessory to one of his famous alter-egos. Each work is beautifully thought out both in material and iconographic content, rendered in Perry’s inimitable linear, narrative style.
Art rarely feels this accessible, with Perry’s language entirely unpretentious yet shot through with real wit. If ever there was an exhibition for right now, this is it.