Thursday, 12 January 2012

Grayson Perry - Tomb of the Unknown Crafstman

Aside from the occasional appearance on TV I knew little about Grayson Perry as an artist before I visited his exhibition at the British Museum.

I was intrigued by the whole Alan Measles concept and how as a boy Perry had created his own fantasy world around his teddy bear (AM) as an escape from his difficult childhood. This was something I could personally relate to and was intrigued to see how Perry explored these themes through his artwork.

Before I went I did see a short documentary explaining the concept for the show and how Perry wanted to juxtapose craftsman made artefacts from the museums collection against his own pieces. At the centre of the exhibition was a funeral ship (Perry's work) cast from several of the museum's exhibits, and carrying a flint hand axe from antiquity into the afterlife.

One of the first items that I saw when I arrived was a custom made motorcycle with a shrine housing AM built onto the rear. The motorcycle had actually been ridden by Perry on a pilgrimage to a German town twinned with his hometown in Essex. The idea was to apologise for the mythical wars that AM had fought with the Germans during WW2. This is where I first got a sense of Perry making his imaginary world a reality. The motorcycle, the trip to Germany and the mythical wars were being meshed together. I began to see the conceptual artist at work here and realised that Perry is not just a creator of physical works but also a contemporary artist that moves between the two states of real and unreal, blurring the divide.

A good example of this are two ceremonial headresses placed side by side in the exhibition. One is an Ashante headress from the collection the other is an antique looking motorcycle helmet from the AM mythology. Perry does this all through the exhibition. He places his own artwork against intricately made pieces from antiquity. This creates a fascinating juxtaposition and his witty explanations, touching on modern culture, the role of craftsmen and symbolism in art were excellent and clearly communicated.

His work is very tactile. Many of the objects have intricate details, sometimes hidden inside layers and the artist has a strong sense of texture and form. The ceramic vases were amazing. Particularly the ones with acid colours and the quirky style of decoration using contemporary motifs and comments give a wry reflection on modern life.

The centre piece - the funeral ship representing all the worlds craftsmen, made in iron by taking casts of museum artefacts and with an ancient flint hand axe at the very centre was incredible. Tied to the mast were little glass bottles with contents to represent blood, sweat, and tears. I love this idea! The original ancient stone tool that began humanities journey. The discovery of new technologies that evolved over (hundreds of) thousands of years and enabled man to make new art and form a world culture sailing away to a new place in the afterlife.

An exhibition definitely well worth a visit.

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