The Vanity of Small Differences

Grayson Perry The Adoration of the Cage Fighters, 2012

Our main reason for our trip over to Manchester the other Saturday was to visit the Manchester City Art gallery to take another look at Grayson Perry’s series of six tapestries made during the filming of his Channel 4 documentary All in the Best Possible Taste. I never watched the programmes at the time but I think they’re available on the Channel 4 equivalent of the BBC iplayer and having seen the tapestries am inspired to watch them.

The six tapestries chart the ‘class journey’ made by a fictional character Tim Rakewell and include many of the characters, incidents and objects encountered by the artist during his journeys through Sunderland, Tunbridge Wells and The Cotswolds for the series. He has selected his elements and symbols carefully, to be representative of the various social classes and their “tastes”.

We really liked the tapestries.  We’d had a quick look at them during a brief visit to the Gallery before the Kate Rushton concert we went to at the Bridgewater Hall before Christmas. But wanted to have a closer, more detailed look and study them in more detail.

Although when I first encountered Grayson Perry I wasn’t quite sure what to make of his work I have grown to like it. He is quite an astute observer and I like his cartoon-like style. The tapestries are a series inspired by Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress and need to be viewed as a complete work.

File:William Hogarth 027.jpg

The individual pieces reference a number of renaissance religious paintings and other works of art are featured on the tapestries too (such as a Lowry painting on the first)

The series illustrates the rise, and fall, of a working class kid from a single parent family in Sunderland via University, becoming liberal middle class and then by selling his business to Richard Branson, becoming nouveau riche. Eventually dying by crashing his Porsche. The first two tapestries are actually set in Sunderland, which, having family who live in the city and thereabouts, I know quite well, as we them visit fairly regularly. I recognised that Sunderland was portrayed in the second tapestry in the series  before I discovered that was were it was supposed to be, during our first visit in December.

Grayson Perry The Agony in the Car Park, 2012

One blogger I read criticised his stereotypical portrayal of the working class, But as an astute observer I think he has really picked up on key elements of the “taste” of all the classes. I can “see” my own family in the tapestries. The first one is very representative of my youngest brother’s family. (And one of the characters in a group of young women is the sitting image of one of our relatives in the North East) I could see my sister in one of the two families portrayed in the third tapestry. But the spookiest thing is that the first four tapestries (but not the last two!) pretty much represent my own life story – from working class via university to liberal middle class. Many of the objects portrayed in the fourth tapestry, which are meant to be representative of the latter can be found in our house – the espresso pot on the hob, the Penguin books themed cups, the pebbles on the table, the recycling boxes, the organic veg, the Guardian, an ipad, a medium sized European-made car on the drive. All a bit too close for comfort!

Grayson Perry The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal, 2012

The exhibition catalogue is reasonably priced and there is also an ipad / iphone app available from the Apple Store which includes commentary from the artist, art historical references and a guide to the ‘making of’ the works. Quite a bargain at £1-99

The exhibition leaves Manchester for Birmingham in February and then t’s off to the Walker in Liverpool and I think we will be going to have another look at it when it’s there.

8 thoughts on “The Vanity of Small Differences

  1. Pingback: Art_Textiles at the Whitworth | Down by the Dougie

  2. Pingback: Folk Wisdom – Grayson Perry at Kiasma | Down by the Dougie

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