Grayson Perry is well known for his colourful personality and grandiose visionary of everyday life full of social idiosyncrasies, personal quirks, class traits and cultural motifs. Whether his art comes in the form of ceramics, print, tv programmes, clothing or tapestry. In their unique and individual ways they each tell a compelling story – making you see so much more.
Immediately powerful in their presence, the pair of Essex House Tapestries tell a story of a fictional Essex woman, and one we can all relate to in some way. The first one is titled ‘In its Familiarity Golden’ portraying Julie’s early years from birth, as a teenager in Basildon to her doomed first-marriage. In ‘A Perfect Match’ depicting her later in life, she has relocated to Maldon with her second husband but dies suddenly (spoiler alert: a take-away moped accident). To write Julie’s biography he looked to English ballad and folklore traditions, narrating a life of beauty and yet showing the contractions of an ordinary person.
The appetite to which Perry uses colour is glorious. So bold in his approach, this brazen deliciousness combines incredibly well with the richness of wool woven tapestry material. As though it needs to be so deep and thick to be able to retain the sheer volume of colour and depth of meaning in the story-telling. Reminding me somewhat of Jason’s technicolour dream coat which is apt considering Perry’s own penchant for dramatic wear.
‘…the trials, tribulations, celebrations and mistakes of an average life.’
The story of Julie Cope is equally as fascinating as the techniques employed, from digital skills on computer, to the weavers actually making the tapestry or in Perry’s meticulous drawing. Perry has a knack of telling a tale. This modern-day story is an example of how woven our daily lives are with culture and social history. Class and convention intervening at every chance it gets. There’s a cycle of life that Perry wants to show and tell.
How people, place and purpose all interlink to influence us on our journey. So from her upbringing in Canvey, marriage, children, divorce, new husband and eventually her untimely death. The way in which these events are illustrated is rich in detail as well as beauty. These tapestries immortalise Julie Cope and her rainbow of life.
The tapestries are shown alongside a graphic installation, and specially commissioned audio recording of The Ballad of Julie Cope, a 3000 word narrative written and read by Perry himself that illuminates Julie’s hopes and fears as she journeys through life.
On until Saturday 16 February
Abbot Hall Art Gallery