Grayson Perry intrigues me. Both as an individual and for his art, as each intertwine to make him a whole person. One is not the same without the other. Thus his penchant for clothes is inexplicably part of his identity and alter-ego Claire. Using them as an extension of his personality, encompassing every facet of himself – from vibrant, gregarious, sophisticated, extrovert to happy, even childlike.
Having seen Perry’s ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’ a series of large-scale tapestries exploring the British fascination with class and taste. Complete with icons, brand logos and symbols, I see the same in his dresses displayed at the Walker Art Gallery. A printed Neoprene dress by Stephanie Imma Christofaro (2012) made out of scuba diving material is adorned with a skeleton mapping out the different parts of the body and naming them which references the issues addressed in Perry’s work. So not just happy with the choice of materials, colour, length and style, additional symbols such as rabbits, hearts, flowers and eyes are emblazoned across the pieces. Small touches appear everywhere including bonnets and bows making them extremely ornamental, exquisite and highly personal.
One of my favourite pieces is the psychedelic Technicolour Dreamcoat designed by Angus Lai (2014), its a fantastically mental dress coat with amazing riot of imagery and patterns – from lines, swirls, dots, the sun and a few unicorns. And as a conductor of this kind of creative freedom Perry utilises himself as a unbelievable asset able to generate this.
There may only be a small collection here to view but they give me a distinct insight into his loves and life as a person. Dressing as Claire is an opportunity to dress up, get glam and put on a different persona – just like we all do when going out for the evening or to a wedding. Its no different in that respect. From the gingerbread-esque dresses with matching bonnet, to an Egyptian-come-Freemason inspired silk robe, to a black latex-dominatrix number. Cross dressing has always been a part of his life and the earliest manifestations was to dress as an Essex housewife or Newsreader type.
Perry used to buy clothes from ladies shops or design them himself but as an established Turner Prize winning artist, since 2004 Central St Martins fashion students take part in an annual competition to design new dresses. Lucky him gets to judge and purchase up to 20 creations each year!
“I encourage them to make the dresses as
bizarre and exciting as they can.”
It seems fitting that the exhibition is located in their design and collectibles area, I love the idea of these one-off unique pieces sitting next to rare items of pottery, jewellery, glass, metalwork and furniture. It makes me wonder at what else Grayson Perry has sitting back at home.
‘Making Himself Claire’
Just finished (sorry)
Walker Art Gallery
Liverpool, L3 8EL