The Verse’s Jake Francis interviewed Grayson Perry. Here is their transcribed conversation.
JF – Jake Francis
GP – Grayson Perry
JF – So the first and perhaps most important question to ask is, Grayson – are you a loveable character or are you a serious artist?
GP – (Laughs) Well I’m both of course – it’s a relevant question now as it ever was. I think that having fun is very serious business. It’s a huge part of culture, and often I think people who are into high culture don’t take humour seriously.
JF – I think that’s true – I think a lot of artists do have a very potent sense of humour. Marcel Broodthaers was very funny and witty. Of course, Duchamp was a prankster amongst many other things. Some people think his R. Mutt thing was even a joke that just got out of hand. I think humour is a very important quality in art.
GP – The joke is the most influential artwork of the 20th century – there you go.
JF – Yes, and I’ve just been to ‘I Object’ at the British Museum and that would give you at least 100 examples of the truth in that statement – especially when it comes to pocking fun at one’s superiors or in dissent. You’ve stated that the label of art can and has been used liberally to explain away amateurism, odd behaviour, or even antisocial acts – but for many it can be a daunting task to pin ‘art’ or ‘artist’ onto their lapels – did you ever have a difficulty in calling yourself an artist?
GP – Oh that’s a good question. I don’t remember a point where I did. It’s not necessarily like there’s a tipping point – it’s something you gradually become more comfortable with as you build up a bit of a track record, a bit of experience, being out in the world it’s about that ongoing dialogue with the audience and with collectors, the art biz – you get used to it and you start to inhabit the role. Every artist has their own version of it, so it’s not like you put on a uniform.
JF – Of course not, no.
GP – So it’s very much bound up with your personality and how you think of yourself in your creativity, and then the more comfortable you are with yourself as a creative person, the more likely you might be to describe yourself as an artist. I don’t think there’s a recipe for it. It just happens over time – it might happen before they even go to college, it might happen with some people a while after.
JF – That’s the thing – because I’ve met a lot of people who have obviously gone through art school, and I am a post-graduate myself, so I too have lived in that peripheral gap of so-called career development. With plumbing, for example you may do an apprenticeship and you go from a trainee- plumber into a plumber. Artists don’t seem to feel that kind of immediacy of saying ‘I am an artist now’.
GP – Yeah, it’s a good point. Ambiguity is what we deal with, you know? It’s a sort of fluffy-edged definition.
JF – Fuzzy, maybe? As you’ve said in defining ‘art’?
GP – (Laughs) Fuzzy, yeah.
JF – So unlike a lot of artists or modern theorists, you do consistently acknowledge the role of technology in how art is received, shared, and even made. There is a sort of paradox in these technologies that there are now apps to make photos look like they were taken 40 years previous, and there are now virtual galleries available on your VR headset. I have met a man who had dedicated his whole career to making mobile phones a plausible pocket item, only to see his work wilt in the age of the 45 inch iPhone. With technology seemingly encroaching at an unstoppable rate into the more ‘traditional things’ that we do, do you think that this causes a problem for future artists or do you think that it makes their toolbox ever so differently shaped?
GP – Yeah I think it gives you so many more options, technology gives artists such an amazing power. You can now make a movie on a little thing in your pocket – you can do amazingly creative things, and you know it throws back on you: ‘what do you want to do?’. I think now, the only block to making really interesting art is, can you decide what to do? Not only now do you have the technology to make it, record it, and then broadcast it – you can put images of your work onto the world wide web, something that hits a nerve, for whatever reason, it’s an amazing opportunity. But the difficult part of the web is always around how do you monetise it.
JF – Which has been a big problem for things like pornography, I suppose – not to muddy the waters with kitsch sentiment but I guess that it would be a good comparison.
GP – Yes.
JF – So do you think that it’s kind of the invention of the camera for us in the 21st century? The parameters have changed but the incentive to make a statement is still there, through any means necessary?
GP – Yeah, the art business for me – still the kind of unique selling proposition of art is that it’s an object. Everything else is somehow an addendum to the object. If you’re making video art, you could say ‘I’m making television, but I’m sticking it in the object category’, or ‘I’m doing some theatre but I’m sticking it in the object category because I don’t think it would work in a theatre’, and so I’ve always been very anti-that – I’ll do television which IS television or I’ll do theatre things which IS theatre.
I’m a bit old school about these genres, because : A) there’s an established way of making a living out of them and B) It’s clear for the audience in what they’re looking at, and so then they know how to appreciate it. A person watching a television programme at home can turn it off, and so it’s comparable to any other television programme. If you’re stuck in a gallery with nothing to sit on…
JF – Yes which makes me think of ‘The Clock’ which you mentioned in ‘Playing to the Gallery’
GP – The sofas…
JF – Is it the furniture that comes with it, you know…
GP – Not just that, it’s a good piece.
JF – Yes it’s a great piece.
GP – It’s a good piece and the sofas – two great things that you want with video art that you don’t always get. But let’s not be overly hard with video art.
JF – I’ve been to an art show in Cardiff recently, Artes Mundi – a political art prize which had some video art, I’m not sure if you’re aware of it? It’s slightly peripheral…
GP – Oh yeah, I’ve heard the name.
JF – It’s funny, they had this completely dark room for one of the galleries, they had these old sort of cinema chairs, which, you know, were great because they were quite…novel, a sort of ‘ooo lovely’, very nice objects to sit on. But they did begin to interrupt the video whenever people got up with these big yanks and creaks and some people said ‘Oh, it’s a part of the artwork’ and I wasn’t sure, maybe it is maybe it isn’t. It was quite funny to watch several critics looking at these chairs more than the video posturing ‘Hmmm, is this part of the artwork’?
GP – That’s what happens when you drag things into artworks you know, it’s going to be heavily looked at ‘Soz’
JF – So you’ve mentioned the unequivocal truth that the art world can, and has been, and arguably still is, an inward-looking, self-reliant community…
GP – Yeah, but not entirely
JF – Not entirely no, but as the public have increasingly become involved in its reception and artists have rapidly taken on a ‘purchasable persona’, the YBAs and so on, do you feel that their inclusion has been beneficial of detrimental for artists and contemporary work?
GP – I think it’s good all round because with museums, and they’ve built a lot of museums in the last 20-30 years, they’ve got to have people going to them and to have an interest in them. If you’re an artist that is popular with the public and the museums want to give you a show because they want footfall, then that’s good brownie points in the eyes of collectors, dealers and potentially critics. Critics aren’t quite in that loop but they’re part of it. Why not? Put it out to the test! I think it’s good for an artist to have that sort of cold shower of public opinion.
JF – There does seem to be a sort of teetering scale with the public, you’ve said yourself that you don’t want to be unashamedly trendy and so I suppose there’s that teetering of being popular but perhaps not being ‘too popular’ with public acclaim. Do you feel that this could be detrimental to an artist?
GP – Depends on how you handle it, doesn’t it? Whether you just keep trying to please the public and how does it affect your work – is your work still interesting? Or are you pandering to what you feel is going to be popular with the public or the masses.
JF – Well on that, and this may be the fitting question to follow on from, there is a lot of talk about the ‘gimmick’ in art today – or as you have put it ‘the Instagram quality’ – an artwork that people want to get in front of to take a photo with, the Mona Lisa being perhaps the most famous example…
GP – Well the Mona Lisa was famous long before Instagram. Whereas with others artists now – like Kusama, who is the most popular artist in the world – she is a really good artist, but her work does also look good on Instagram.
JF – Yes, and I’ve even heard that some artists will make artwork or photograph it in such a way that it will allow a perfect fit in that pre-cropped, ‘app filter’
GP – Not a bad tactic, you make art to fit on walls – so why not on virtual walls? Michelangelo had to fit his contribution to the Sistine ceiling didn’t he? So maybe Instagram is the Sistine ceiling of du jour.
JF – But it does creep into cliché territories to be known for it, you yourself have said that you are known for your pots but of course you do so much more than that, do you think now, and I realise that it’s on a case-by-case basis, that the gimmick sometimes now comes first?
GP – Gimmick is my somewhat derogatory way of talking about it – all artists who are successful have some sort of celebrity style or genre or sort of art that they make – some kind of hook to make them recognisable. An artist’s job is to make new clichés, if you can get a cliché to your name, you know ‘he owns that’, I think it’s an interesting aspect. If you look back through the 20th century, a lot of artists owned a certain style of brushstroke.
JF – That’s true. Matt Groening designed The Simpsons so that they were instantly recognisable in silhouette – I guess that translates into fine art as well; you know if you see a lobster, you think not only of Dali now, but even of Koons.
GP – Koons is playing on the back of Dali probably – he’s a great poacher. It’s good to have that, if you can achieve it. People used to say to me about 15 years ago ‘Oh, I love your work’ – and I’d say ‘Great, could you describe a piece to me’ and they go ‘ Oh, I don’t know’…
JF – POTS!
GP – Yeah exactly, and now because of certain things I’ve done – and that I’ve done works that stick in the memory – whether that be the house, or a tapestry or a certain sculpture, it’s now easier for them. It’s an interesting development, for me, to become lodged in peoples consciousnesses.
JF – You have a lot of facets to your practice, is there one you feel most confident in?
GP – Well pots, because that’s what I’ve always done. So I feel very much in control, but also, it’s kind of my USP – I like to keep that chugging on so that everything that I do is as well as the pots.
JF – That’s great. So critics like Brian Sewell, who I personally don’t feel much truck with, have claimed that art today is merely a game of indifference and peacocking against the former, a sort of Frankenstein Avant-garde. I don’t entirely agree with that, but there are of course a lot of art practices that rely heavily on appropriation as core construct…
GP – Yeah and there are a lot of game artists who try and game the art world a bit, and they don’t necessarily subscribe to an idea of beauty or an idea of aesthetic sophistication. I think that there is probably a place for that in the art world as a sort of art. Whether it’s going to last or do them any good, I don’t know but I’m quite old fashioned – I still try and make things that I find attractive, to look at again and again. But that’s sort of a slippery thing, what makes things attractive – I can’t say that there’s a recipe. Matt Collings made an interesting programme about the nature of beauty, 10 things he thought you’d need to make something beautiful – things like pattern, surprise, contrast and awe.
JF – And you have referenced before the ‘Venetian Secret’
GP – Well that was a hoax
JF – Yeah, but it did acknowledge that unspoken question of ‘is there a recipe for a good artwork’?
GP – No there is no recipe for a good artwork, because there needs to be an element of surprise. Occasionally, and it’s not very often, but you’ll go ‘I’ve never seen that before’. I’ve got to the stage in life where I will go into a gallery and think ‘Oh that’s a good version of that sort of art’
JF – In that case, do you think there’s another parallel here with that of the ‘joke’? Because a lot of jokes power comes from its timing and its context; do you think that art could fair the same way?
GP – Yeah certainly, if you think of a Turner Prize nominee a few years ago. Who does all the paintings the same size. They’re very pleasant paintings, but they were very reliant on the context of painting in art today. They were very worked and refined – but they could have been done at any time since maybe 1830, but they look very fresh now because of what’s going on in contemporary art now, I suppose.
JF – And you’ve mentioned in your TV work and in interviews that a lot of the work you enjoy and find inspiring is perhaps from a different era, which I personally sometimes find hard to push into past Duchamp
GP – Really, why?
JF – Um I think, and maybe I’m just making excuses for myself, that it would be questioned more in the university setting…
GP – If you look on my bookshelf, the majority of items are about the more traditional arts, about outsider art, art of different cultures…
JF – I think that would be more accepted – and they’re very encouraging in looking at a global scale of art.
GP – But do you mean global traditional art or just global contemporary art?
JF – Global contemporary art, I’d say.
GP – Yeah you see I would be looking more at African tribal art or Chinese ceramics…
JF – Which is quite recognisable in your work, you can see those traces in there.
GP – Yeah, It’s interesting that you feel they’re like that – surely art as subject is everything – it’s the whole world, there shouldn’t be any limitation to what you’re looking at or thinking about.
JF – I agree, really – maybe it’s me. I think that ‘older works’ get looked at predominately on the basis of appropriation, the new gesture on the old.
GP – Why not appropriate something of the current? (laughs)
JF – Well, that’s a good question.
GP – They might be able to get you, corner you on Instagram to tell you off.
JF – Their copyright would be after you
GP – Yes, the great thing about old works is that they’re now maybe out of copyright.
JF – Absolutely. So much of art, especially in the beginning of ‘Modernism’ could be classed as a set of meta-narratives. With the guidelines and parameters of institutional context being firmly set in the crosshairs. You have critiqued this directly in ‘Nice Rebellion, Welcome in!’. Do you feel that new art is always destined to fall on old swords and have we now reached a cul-de-sac of continued controversy – always trying to shock in order to stand out but to little effect?
GP – Controversy is kind of a loaded word isn’t it? It’s good to challenge and mischief is good as a way to develop ‘freshness’ the same way that humour, anger or protest does – ways to keep things fresh to the eye. I enjoy poking fun at the art world because it’s still possible to do that, if you can find a sore spot. My current obsession is people who say they’re ‘political artists’. You’ll meet a young artist and you’ll say ‘what sort of artist are you?’ and they’ll say ‘I’m a political artist’ – you mean left-wing artist don’t you (laughs)
JF – Well exactly, and there’s a recent Joe Rogan podcast that brings two academics on who have put in very left-wing, jokingly so, fake papers that managed to get published under false pretences.
GP – Oh yes I’ve heard about those studies, they’re very funny.
JF – I suppose that yes it is mischievous, and it is somewhat ‘damaging’ to the institute in wasting their time but it’s nevertheless a great statement…
GP – Well it just shows how gullible they all are. Sometimes there is an earnestness which is always a sign of naivety as well, and it caught out academia in that way.
JF – I think it should be, not encouraged as such, but it’s a right of passage for many people entering these realms to challenge what they work within.
GP – Yeah. Being a lefty used to be the outsider stance but that’s no longer the case, I think a lot of right-wing bloggers now enjoy that rebellious status, more so than the politics itself.
JF – Which you cover in sorts in your book ‘The Descent of Man’, with those who feel ostracised in being ‘a bloke’.
GP – Yeah absolutely.
JF – So going onto education – There is a tendency in art education today, especially at post-graduate level, to treat the art practice in a similar way to scientific explanation or experimentation – a trial and error, study of A+B=C. This of course is found to be very clinical, as I have discussed with practitioners from all walks of MA courses. Looking back on tradition and the arts inescapable link to sciences as a line of enquiry, do you think that this course of education is justified?
GP – I’m always wary of the combination of the two these days – I always think that artists dabbling in science makes bad science and the other way around makes bad art. I use technology but I think that to reference science is to say that you’re doing something experimental or cutting edge – but all art to a certain extent references science in the way that it’s made or whatever. It always sets my teeth on edge when I hear artists say ‘I’m doing a project in the science museum’. I got asked recently to curate a show at a science museum but I’m not really interested. It’s like nature, I don’t really find nature that inspiring – he says, the man who’s been drawing a cactus all afternoon. (laughs)
JF – I would say a cactus is quite urban, if anything – you see it all over the place…
GP – Exactly, I’m not interested in the cactus itself but more so of its presence in the urban context…
JF – You can get cactus neon now
GP – Exactly. But I’m always interested in people, in society – that’s what drives me. Nature is like a warm bath, it’s nice to go visit and to get into…
JF – But you get all pruney. I always imagined if you did do a project on nature that it would be more so around bird watchers or train spotters or things such as that.
GP – Yeah, our human attitude to nature – it would be quite interesting to do a project on ecologists or Vegans for example. But to do something on birds or flowers, I don’t think so.
JF – It’s funny, I saw an advert online for a Vegan art show – it was an open call for explicitly Vegan artists. But it did say, and I really want to email to ask how they’d do this, that proof will be required, now I don’t know if that means a stool sample?
GP – (Laughs) Is it the artwork or the artist that has to be proven Vegan?
JF – I don’t know, I don’t know. So after speaking with MANY artists, and being one myself of course, there is a communal acceptance of procrastination or lack of motivation – which is exacerbated further by financial strain, having to work other jobs, or a dwindled peer network, have you experienced this and how have you coped with that in the past as your career has developed/ advanced levels?
GP – I can sympathise with all that. God yes, I’ve had all of it – I’m sure when I was younger that I would have much longer breaks off working. I’d quite often do nothing for the whole summer. But one thing I did find, with that idea of going off for inspiration, was bollocks. I usually came back to work the next term and just pick up where I left off, pretty much. That’s why I like getting into a group of works, the ideas come thicker and faster and richer as the work progresses and as it feeds off each other. Whereas staring into space or going off to look at something doesn’t necessarily inspire work.
JF – Graham Linehan – arguably THE channel 4 sitcom guru, says that when he’s facing that blank page with a pen, nothing good will come of it. But when he’s in the shower or chopping up segments of lime for his Corona that evening, that’s when ideas start to stipulate.
GP – Yeah, and every creative person has their own way of being creative – I guess you just have to learn to recognise when it’s happening for you. I keep a notebook by the bed, because sometimes in that lovely period before you get up, you may think in your semi-dreamy state ‘Oh, that’s quite good’ . I often will have thoughts in the middle of conversations too.
JF – So ideas and inspiration come in those indiscriminate periods for you, you’d say?
GP – Yeah, I find, for instance – my next show is going to be called ‘Super Rich Interior Decoration’…
JF – Wow that’s a mouthful, I like that!
GP – It came from someone being rude to me about the summer show – one of the other RAs, about the room that I’d hung. They came in and said ‘Oh I see what you’ve done, interior decoration’, and I went ‘Oh get with the fucking program, that’s what we all do – we all make super rich interior decoration’
JF – (Laughs) well maybe I’m misremembering but did you not say that one of the worst things to call an artist’s work is decorative?
GP – Well no it used to be an insult when I was at college. But if there’s one tactic that I’ve done and used repeatedly in my career is that if someone is rude to you there is information in that which is really useful. If you think it’s justified then change it. But more often than not it’s their prejudices that are projected onto you. You could then think ‘why is decorative necessarily a bad thing?’ Then that sets out a whole set of questions.
…I can recall a conversation with Chris Ofili who said ‘decorativeness is a noble thing, doing stuff that is delightful to the eye.’ So quite often if I have to toss a coin between a work being water-tight conceptually with the message coming in clear, or being more decorative. I tend to lean towards the decorative, because in the end that’s what draws the people to the work and brings them delight.
JF – So on that note of taking the positives or something useful out of critical comments. Do you still look at reviews of your work?
GP – No, I’d dwell on it.
JF – So do you feel that they infiltrate your practice and decision making?
GP – I don’t often read below the line on something like Twitter – it would hurt me and like any normal person, I’d read a 100 comments saying how great I was and 1 that would say I’m a wanker , I’d then come away from that feeling that the reaction is ‘I’m a wanker’ (laughs)
JF – It’s much easier and natural to stem towards the negative. So you’ve been very upfront in the past about an incessant fear around art and it’s associated high-brow demands…
GP – Not fear.
JF – Not fear? Maybe discomfort
GP – Irritation- I’d say. In that, when I became an artist it felt that art was relatively rarified. Which had academia, bohemia and rich people within. It had this air of exclusivity around it. Something quite intimidating around the galleries. And they still are to a certain extent. I suppose it’s one of my passions to expand the audience and to make the complexity and beauty of art accessible without it being dumbed down, and just be clear – I’m a very big fan of clarity, that’s why I get so annoyed with some of the language…
JF – The International Art English
GP – Yeah, some of that PhD speech, that kind of stuff -what are you scared of? Are you scared of it being understood by other people? That sort of thing, just another way to keep it exclusive.
JF – I feel that this encroaches in education as well. We of course have seminars, lectures and tutorials in aesthetics; you can sometimes go into it feeling ‘I get that’, but you’ll come out of these sessions and you’ll go ‘no, no I’ve lost it’ You can tend to think, ‘Have I misread it, or am I not being given the tools to dissect it?’
GP – Universities are the place for complex ideas, that is what academia is for, but that shouldn’t be the shop front, necessarily of art. I think that, from the 1960s onwards, that sort of language, became a kind of…not branding…but a way of coaching the product – making it seem exclusive and serious. That somehow added to its status, it made it seem more important. Now it’s so difficult to understand that it can put people off.
JF – One of my favourite quotes from your book is that period where Art Forum, due to its continental editor, suffered from ‘the wrong kind of unreadability’
GP – That’s a great quote (laughs)
JF – An amazing quote. So we’ve mentioned this a little already, but art, on the whole, can be classed as a left-wing community. There are those that could counter this with Tracey Emin supporting the Tories and the Brexit-voting Gilbert and George. In the left-wing cultures there is a sensibility to this new age of political correctness, the so-called #woke generation. As liberating as these things are, censorship is being argued. Especially in university critiques and seminars and artists will often argue that their work shouldn’t be censored and should be granted a wider playground to roam within. What are your thoughts on art and its responsibilities in these complex situations?
GP – I don’t think that art has any explicit responsibilities in being put forward as any particular political agenda. It’s a useless thing – it’s part of a leisure industry. I’ve made enough art that has a political message in it during my time. What worries me about a lot of political art is that it thinks being politically correct is enough. They think that just because the politics are ‘right on’ and important in the world then the art is also good and important. No it’s not it’s shit art with a very important message.
…It’s like a very badly painted placard. It might have the right message, but as a piece of art it’s crap. You can have a great idea and it could be crap art. You could have a great joke and it could be crap art. I think that the obsession with activist art is a fashion. Art is always looking for a thing that has a bit of edge to it. In the 20th century it was: ‘Oh my God, you think that could be art?!’ And this century it seems to be ‘Oh, yes it’s rather unsettling that message in this art’ or ‘you mean those people are making art now, ugh!’
JF – Well obviously Banksy is a common symbol of political or ‘activist art’. He’s been mentioned a lot in the news recently for his shredding stunt. You mentioned in ‘Playing to the Gallery’ that you enjoyed the fact that he used his power to relinquish his own authenticity on works that have been removed for financial gain or what have you. Do you still want that superpower or have you found a better one?
GP – Oh yes I think that would be quite a good superpower because I think that the other way around is too easy. What you really need to be able to do is say that it’s not good art. Anything can be art but very little is good art. You constantly need to keep the discussion going on what makes good art. Good conceptual art has its own sophistication in poetry. In the same way that a good painting has a sophistication in poetry around painting language. And activist art, if it’s good, has its own sophistication in poetry around the way in which it works as activism. It can work on many levels, it’s memorable, it’s visually enticing or whatever. But just because it’s activism doesn’t make it any good – it just makes it activism. In the same way that a blob of paint is a blob of paint.
JF – So do you think that the waters have been a bit muddied?
GP – Well yes, I call it borrowed significance.
JF – Yes, there’s that famous story of the reading glasses being left in the gallery and thus gaining a sort of aura of importance – people giving it a wide birth as they walked around it.
GP – Yes it’s a lazy, lazy trope now – to drag something into the art realm and for it to subsequently become significant. I’m afraid that the magic of this has become very very threadbare now
JF – They’ve had their fun with it?
GP – Yeah it worked for a while. Duchamp set the ball rolling with it and it was interesting. I mean I like art history as a narrative of its significances. Whether I like all of these individual moments as art is another question.
JF – Have you seen ‘The Square’?
GP – I couldn’t watch it – it was so boring. It was so slow
JF – It is slow, but there are moments of recognition throughout, a sort of ‘I’ve been there in that position’ feeling
GP – I think that’s what it was, that it was too familiar to me (laughs) Like a documentary.
JF – A home video, perhaps?
GP – (Laughs) Yeah
JF – There is one scene where an artist pretends to be a gorilla. I don’t know if you got that far?
GP – I didn’t, no not that far – I’ve heard about it.
JF – He’s running around the banquet hall at some party. There’s these glances of encouragement or ‘when is this going to end’. I think we’ve all been in that position of thinking ‘this is very interesting but it’s going on for a lot longer than I expected’
GP – There’s no reason why it should be convenient. I’d prefer to read about it rather than endure it. There’s a lot of art like that. I’m glad it exists but I don’t always want to have to look or be a part of at it
JF – (Laughs) I think that’s how my parents feel about my art. So going back onto censorship. I saw an Evening Standard article about the difficulties you faced when constructing the RA Summer show this year. Most notably around egos, email as main form of correspondence, and having to kind of choose work amongst others that were…grotesque?
GP– (Laughs) is this members of the public or other RAs? Because with the members of the public you can just say ‘no’, but with the other RAs you have to find a space to hang it.
JF – I think it was that some of the submitted works were completely…
GP – There was quite a lot of rude work – we felt quite insulted that people would think that we would…
JF – That you’d pick it
GP – Yeah, they were literally like ‘fuck yous’ and I was like ‘fuck you, then’
JF – YOU’RE NOT IN!
GP – Yeah, it was that easy. That annoyed me, you’ve wasted £35 just so that you can say ‘Oh call this art then’
JF – A sort of expensive middle finger?
GP – Yeah, it was very odd. There wasn’t that much of that, though – a lot of that art was bad in so many other ways (laughs) Most of the things that I absolutely loved were in the public send-in as well, but you know there were thousands and thousands of entries.
JF – Was there an issue of space, did you have to turn away a lot of the things you liked?
GP – No, a lot of the things I really liked got in – I think all of them. There was a small percentage of things that I really really loved. But there was a lot I liked and then I had my fellow…
JF – Your cadre
GP – Yeah exactly, and they liked things that I didn’t, so that was good – that’s why you have a committee – only one of us had to like it to get it in.
JF – I won’t take too much offence then because I got to the pre-selected stage but didn’t get in.
GP – Oh dear, sorry
JF – It’s ok though! Don’t worry, there isn’t a load of people with balaclavas outside waiting to get in so it’s all fine!
GP – (laughs)
JF – So you’ve been pretty clear over the years of what, in your control, is art, and what may be – say TV, or your outfit for the evening – that this is art or this isn’t art…
GP – For me, yeah
JF – Yeah, for you. And we’ve already touched on that word ‘fuzzy’ between what art is and isn’t. You’re pretty conclusive on your own estimations on what you intend to be art. But there is a barrage of theorists who feel that art should be separate from everyday life; and others who feel that their connection to one another is inevitable and should be celebrated with shows such as your ‘Divided Britain’ which combines your art with non-art production….
GP – Well yeah I made a piece of art on the TV show, I made it pretty clear in the separation.
JF – Yes and you’re always up front about that – but how do you feel about those who say that art should be kept separate?
GP – Separate how, though?
JF – Well in Donald Kuspit’s ‘The End of Art’, I don’t know if you’ve read it?
GP – I have read that book, I think
JF – In that he states that art perhaps shouldn’t be about the news that week, or about social issues – that it should be a sort of palette cleanser to everyday drudgery….
GP – I guess it’s their personal taste, isn’t it? There’s room for all sorts of art – and I’m fine with that. You don’t have to like it…
JF – ‘You don’t have to like it all’ is a quote that I’ve read in your book. I forget who from.
GP – Alan Bennet said that, and I think it’s a great mantra. I think you have to remember that; that they might only like 1% of the art they see if that, and that’s fine.
JF – Yeah, that’s quite refreshing because a lot of people. Me included, do seem to put themselves in one camp or the other.
GP – Yeah, a lot of people go to art for a number of reasons. It could be art for a kind of therapy, and that’s great – I don’t necessarily think that there’s much cop. And every parent thinks their child is a brilliant artist and I kind of go ‘they’re just a child’, but you do get good child artists…
JF – Let them curate the fridge as you’ve said
GP – (Laughs) Yeah.
JF – So I’m going to get to some questions I’ve been given by other students and friends of mine in the arty-circle as we’re getting to the end of our time – I don’t want to stop you for too long in what you’re doing…
GP – In drawing the cactus…
JF – (Laughs) Yes, the cactus! It’s important – can’t wait to see it in a finished show! So this is from Mike: Who are you ceramic heroes or heroines?
GP – Hmmm. They’re all sort of anonymous, because they’re the craftsman of centuries past, so… there’s probably a few named oriental potters that I could reference, but on the whole my ceramic heroes and heroines are the craftspeople of ancient Asia, Africa, and the medieval Muslim world – in the pots that you see in museums – they’re my ceramic heroes.
JF – So it’s more the culture…
GP – The traditions – that’s what’s important. That means that beauty and creativity doesn’t necessarily rest on the shoulders of an individual – everyone then has their version of it. It’s sort of like when your aunty knits you an Aran jumper – it’s a classic you can’t go wrong with that – but aunty can do her version and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what’s great with tradition, your Aunty doesn’t have to be a fashion designer to get something nice out of it – and I think that is an underrated form of creativity. Most painting nowadays is craft, they want to paint a Constable, a painting that looks like a painting.
JF – Constable is especially prominent in my memory as I grew up in Suffolk.
GP – Oh, yes
JF – And my partner comes from Bicknacre which I know you’re from.
GP – Oh, God!
JF – So it’s not so much the individual or a practice based thing, but the tradition of that craft that you find most inspiring?
GP – Yes because I use the aura of those things – the history and tradition associated and the recognisable factor of those things. I always work within a tradition, which is important to me.
JF – That’s an integral part of the process and the work
GP – Yeah because I want people to know what they’re looking at – that’s a tapestry, that’s a pot. I don’t want people to have to worry in looking at a room full of…collapsed…
JF – A room full of whipped cream and coat racks.
GP – Yeah exactly and there’s a lot of that around these days.
JF – (Laughs) Yeah. So a questions from Rachel: How do you deal with criticism – both with your work and as an individual – when you’re within the Claire persona?
GP – With Claire, people on the whole, don’t come up to me and say you look shit. Either I don’t read anything, or a friend may say to me ‘I saw something nice about you and a good review in the paper’ and I then might read it – but on the whole, I don’t take notice of them. The good ones can be as problematic as the bad ones in some ways. They can influence you and give you an inflated view on some of the things you do. My director reads everything about all the television we make. I read none of it – and he will say ‘it’s all good, don’t worry, you’re fine’. So that’s good.
JF – You don’t have anything to worry about. I enjoy each one very much and I haven’t heard anything bad in my social groups
GP – Ah we all live in a bubble of similar opinion.
JF – Yes which has been best shown in the trappings of social media around politics. A question from Tom: Like many artists today, the use of the assistant is pivotal in producing an ever-increasing quality of works. Do you find it difficult to relinquish responsibilities?
GP – Yes. There’s very little I don’t have a large part in. If there’s drawing to be drawn or a sculpture to be sculpted or colours to be chosen, or shapes to be worked out – I do that. I’m happy for other people, with things like 3D printing, to have a part in it – but I still hold control in my own scale. That means I still hold control over everything. There’s very little, in terms of aesthetic input, that I don’t have control of. Obviously I have a lot of people making tapestries, doing prints and casting casts. Jen has helped me with some of the tomb stuff, you know.
JF – Did you find, when you started gearing up to another level of your career say, that you delayed taking people into your practice in that way?
GP – Yes and I made a conscious decision to do that. To not have anyone in the studio as a studio assistant. I mean sometimes with Eric in his studio there
JF – Hi Eric!
GP – Eric will make his own work in there and on occasion I’ll go in and say ‘Eric, I’m having real trouble lifting this up, would you give me a hand?’ and that’s about it
JF – Well that stems from those communal spaces in being an art student. That’s a huge part of it as well.
GP – Yeah, and it’s nice to have someone to talk to about stuff. In terms of people actually making the work, I would never use a sort of fabrication studio or something like that. Unless they were scaling something up that I had made precisely already. So it would feel like I was an architect – like we did with the house, me and the architect went over every fine detail, you know.
JF – Some cynics would say ‘Oh, why didn’t he build it himself?’ (laughs)
GP – Well Christopher Wren did not build St. Pauls cathedral, funnily enough!
JF – Exactly, there does seem to be a standard with artists, of people saying ‘how dare you get help with making this!’
GP – Yeah, but the whole history of culture is a communal activity, you know!
JF – Absolutely. So this question is from Billy. With the continued gentrification of London and it’s surrounding cities, there is understandably a difficulty in securing affordable workspaces away from the home. Many post-graduate courses also do not offer these facilities. Do you have any experience with these issues or have any suggestions in maintaining a practice with these financial constraints?
GP – Oh God yes! During my first three or four years in London my studio was the kitchen table in the front room of our squat. I went to evening classes. That’s where I did my pottery and any sculptures and paintings I did were there in the squat. When I hear people saying ‘Ah, I can’t afford a proper studio or my materials’. I do want to say, you know necessity is the mother of invention, do something that you can do.
…I still enjoy making sculptures out of bits and bobs. Like in my Serpentine show I did that sculpture of Alan Measles made from pebbles from the beach. I really enjoyed making that – It took me to being 23 making things on the kitchen table. Whole art movements – like Arte Povera, one of my favourites, started the same way. You can make a bloody Hollywood movie on your phone!
JF – Do you think that people need to have a little more ingenuity around these problems?
GP – There’s not one way of being an artist. The history of art is what people can manage; famous art centres were famous because they were cheap for artists to live in. Maybe Sunderland will be the next big art capitol, who knows?
JF – Well they say that the artist is often linked with that of the problem-solver. Do you think that these financial restraints and so on are a part of those problems to solve?
GP – Yeah of course it is, – you’ve got to deal with it, and you’ve got to find a way to make a living that is realistic. And not to expect to become a superstar artist overnight, that is part of the apprenticeship.
JF – I have very much had an urge to start making macaroni drawings again.
GP – Yeah, if it works for you, why not?
JF – So I’ve got a question from Gill. To what extent do you feel Claire has contributed to the success of Grayson Perry? Do you see yourself as two different entities?
GP – No it’s always been just me in a dress. It has been very useful, being a transvestite – it’s good PR. It gives me a visual branding, and has helped enormously. And people are interested in it and I put an awful lot of time and money into keeping her fresh (laughs)
JF – (laughs) like a 1950s housewife!
GP – Yeah, or whatever look is ready for her next. I’ve always got at least one outfit ready in the pipeline. Every year the students will make a dozen more pieces or something, you know.
JF – When do you choose to be Claire, that’s the follow-up question; do you sometimes wake up and think, ‘Ok, today is a Claire day’?
GP – Well most of the time when I’m working it’s most practical for me to be Grayson. But Claire is for when other people dress up – for parties, smart occasions, formal occasions. It’s my version of dressing up nicely.
JF – You’ve kind of already answered this, but was it Claire or Grayson who accepted the Turner Prize?
GP – Well they are the same person so we both did.
JF – Last question, because I know we’re short on time – Matt has asked, or said: You said that an artist’s largest work was rarely their best. I believe that Angel of The North by Gormley was probably a good contender for one of his best works…
GP – I wouldn’t say so – at all.
JF – No?
GP – No I don’t think it’s his best work, by far. I think he’s done much better things. I think the piece on the beach near Liverpool is better – very strong. And ‘The Field’ is very good, you know – the one with all the little clay figures. I think they’re much better than the Angel of the North, it’s quite clunky and big.
JF – It’s like Stonehenge, maybe? Just something to drive past.
GP – Yeah. But when you see that piece, ‘The Field’ it really works – sort of like walking out onto the stage at Glastonbury, in front of thousands of people. It’s a great piece.
JF – Well the follow-up question from Matt was: can you think of any artists where their largest work is their best?
GP – Oh, that’s a good question…Um, It’s a very rare thing, architects of course have done it. Hmm, artists…It’s pretty rare I think. I’d really struggle to name an artist where their biggest work is their best. The auction house has the same opinion; you’ll see a work from a well-known artist that is gigantic and it won’t make half as much as the more moderate sized masterpiece…
JF – Do you think that it’s that New York Elevator condition?
GP – Yes it’s certainly part of that. I’ve found that when I make large artworks, for instance, with my tapestries, that they are more difficult to sell and you have to price them accordingly. So per square foot they’re cheaper (laughs)
JF – Like Carpet right!
GP – (Laughs) Yeah. You’ve got to remember that it’s got to fit in someone’s house. Not many people have a seven metre by 3 metre wall in their house.
JF – Maybe in the near future when they convert all of these old industrial spaces.
GP – Yeah maybe a few. Big art, if you can do it well – then you’re onto a winner because public art is always present. But on the whole, big sculpture is not always great.
JF – Last question, because Holly will kill me if I don’t ask this as she’s a big fan. What does the self- portrait mean to you and does it need to fulfil any specific criteria?
GP – Oh, God
JF – It’s quite a broad question, I know
GP – Yes, I mean does she do a lot of self-portraits? Self-portrait is as old as man. Going right back to cavemen leaving their handprints on walls – that ‘I am here’. Now we all take selfies, and so that investigation of what makes the self portrait has been done to death. We are one’s most convenient model. When you’re an earnest teenage artist, we have all gone through that phase of staring into the eyes of ourselves…
JF – Yes and you’ve said before with photography – how to tell that it is art – is that usually people in the images aren’t smiling (laughs)
GP – Yes, that’s one of the rules – definitely.
JF – That’s perfect, thanks very much for your time.
GP – Ok, no problem, groovy.