Grayson Perry on transgender awareness and working out what modern masculinity means
GraysonPerryhas been trying to work out whether he will be able to operate PowerPoint for his forthcoming London Palladium show, Typical Man in a Dress, wearing an embroidered, silver foil wing suit.
"It's quite stiff but I've been practising," he says, flapping his arms in imitation.
Perry's show, in which pandora silver bracelet charms he will perform as his transvestite alter ego Claire, is based on The Descent of Man, his new book about masculinity and what it means to be male. It's been a perennial theme of the cross dressing potter, yet for all the art, irreverent jokes and colourful outfits, he takes a surprisingly harsh line.
"I sometimes watch the evening news on television and think all the world's problems can be boiled down to one thing: the behaviour of people with a Y chromosome," he says. Men do seem to be getting a hard time of it at the moment. "A hard time?" he retorts. "Who from? A few Western men in the media are getting a hard time from a few Western women in the media. But if you look at it globally, men are pissing all over the world."
Today, in his Islington studio, surrounded by his tapestries, photographs and sketchbooks, and dressed in pink T shirt and blue trousers held pandora silver charms up by braces, Perry comes over as resolutely blokey. Careful not to delve into what he calls "the Pandora's Box" of other cultures "they're not going to be handing copies of my book out in IS holiday camps" he has directed his fire at a group he dubs Default Man. "White, middle class, heterosexual men, usually middle aged, who continue to colonise the high status, high earning, high power roles. They're the ones doing the most damage."
Donald Trump? "He's the ultimate Default Man, the gift that keeps on giving. I wonder when they'll run out of excuses for excusing him. But I don't think he's anything special. There are a lot of men like him; feminism has passed them by."
With characteristic good grace, Perry is the first to admit he's a bit of a Default Man himself, although having been born into a working class family in Chelmsford partly lets him off the hook. "I can be very traditionally masculine, territorial and competitive," he concedes, especially towards other men. "Part of writing about pandora bracelet ideas men is that I can get one over on them; yeah, totes," he chuckles. Does he feel he got one over on Jonathan Jones, the Guardian's art critic, who has consistently given Perry's work derisory reviews, with his sketch of a new pot bearing the quote, "'Suburban popular culture' Johnathan [sic] Jones". The drawing was released at a recent press event for his 2017 Serpentine show.
Perry snorts with laughter. "Well, I'm being interviewed for a newspaper, so I don't want inflame the flames and I have no real beef with the guy. It was just a doodle which they put out to publicise the show and it worked brilliantly. Let's face it. Publicity's what you want, isn't it?"
In his case, yes. Yet the inveterate publicity seeker, who is now 56, admits that greater trans awareness, together with his ever increasing fame, means that cross dressing in public no longer holds the thrill it once did. "One of my joke regrets about becoming well known is that it's ruined being a transvestite. Now I'm not the anonymous weirdo in the street, I'm Grayson Perry. I'm on duty. If I'm cycling in a dress, people want to have chats and a selfie. It's nice but at the same time I don't get that frisson of being 'othered' and stared at, or have the fantasy of being humiliated, which was all very exciting," he laughs. "But it's a luxury fantasy because I'd much rather that we're free to dress exactly how we like. We're accepted now."
Transvestites may be dime a dozen these days but Perry believes there's still what he calls a "cultural lag" between our rational desire for gender equality and what we actually find erotic. "The guy who is a metrosexual, enlightened employer and a lovely guy by day may be turned on by wanting to dominate in the bedroom, and maybe his girlfriend wants to be dominated too." He suspects that the success of Fifty Shades of Grey is the result of "leisure S of women feeling that since they have a more stable equality they may feel "more licensed to exercise fantasies of subjugation". Is that acceptable? "Sure. Men have fantasies about being dominated by women too," he nods, pointing at himself. "It's the fact that there is a power exchange going on. It's a fantasy, remember, not a manual for behaviour."
As Claire, Perry continues to push limits. The outfits, which started off as "a cross between Katie Boyle and Camilla Parker Bowles", before segueing into Little Bo Peep, have become "progressively more extreme and funnier", which is largely down to Perry's students at St Martins, who design up to 20 new ones for him a year. "I encourage them to make the dresses as bizarre and exciting as they can."
Wellcome Collection, April 14 July 31 An exhibition for the ears: This Is A Voice explores how voices work, how we emotions are carried in our tone, pitch and rhythm of speech, and looks at non verbal forms of communication, too. Paintings, manuscripts and illustrations compliment an acoustic journey featuring work from artists and vocalists including Joan La Barbara, Marcus Coates, Matthew Herbert and Imogen Stidworthy. It will explore why painters were interested in the work of others, and their reasons for building a collection, from personal interest to artistic inspiration. It should be a fascinating insight into what made some of our greatest artists tick. Does ageing bother him or Claire? "I don't look in the mirror and think, 'God you poor old bastard', but I do use what I call off road make up to cope with all the bumps, because I haven't got that smooth eyelid any more. You know what it's like, trying to put on eyeliner," he says, pulling his eyelid flat. And then you relax and it goes," he says, making a juddering sound. "One of my innovations is the under eye jewel to hide the bags. If you use spirit gum they never fall off, but they're quite uncomfortable."
Although Perry still boasts a full head of thick, strawberry blond hair, as Claire he has started wearing wigs. "I haven't worn this one out before," he says, showing me a picture on his pink iPhone of Claire with under eye jewels and a silky, lemon yellow bob cut wig. "It's a cartoon version of my own hair."
As Perry's fame has grown, so has the price of his work. Last week Sotheby's announced an auction record of 112,500 for his 1999 Punters in the Snow pot, while at Frieze London his Chris Huhne vase which he smashed and mended with gold sold for 120,000. He insists wealth hasn't changed him, just given him more opportunities. "I still spend what my wife [psychotherapist Philippa Perry] calls Essex money. When you grew up with no money, you've still got the sting of 'Ooh that's a bit extravagant', but I do treat myself sometimes." He's just commissioned that ultimate boy's toy, a custom built motorbike, "because I fancied it", costing tens of thousands, much to Philippa's delight. As much a critic as she is a fan, Philippa is, he says, "dead sharp" and keeps him grounded.
Perry considers himself lucky to have fulfilled so www pandora nz many of his ambitions but regrets the fact that he was never reconciled with his estranged mother, Jean Dines, before she died earlier this year. She and Perry's father separated when Perry was a child. She later remarried and, as Perry recounted in his 2007 autobiography of his early years, his stepfather was violent and abusive. The teenage Perry went to live with his father until his stepmother discovered he cross dressed and threw him out. "I fantasised about [a reconciliation] for a long time, then lobbied her for it, but it didn't happen. I didn't go to her funeral but I've had good therapy, so I feel pretty resilient."
Therapy has played a huge part in his life, not least in shaping his blueprint for a new kind of masculinity, where men have the right to be vulnerable, weak and wrong. It has also taught him the difference between privacy and secrecy. "Secrecy is where you keep something from somebody that would affect them if they knew about it, whereas privacy is something you just don't want to talk about," he says, "and I've got nothing to hide."
For now, his focus is on producing new work for his Serpentine show next June, modestly titled The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! "There'll be media I haven't exhibited before." What kind? "Oh, I can't talk about that." Is that a secret or is it private? "No," he replies, "it's just the logic of PR."
The Descent of Man is published by Allen Lane, 16.99.
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