Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Provincial punk: Why I love Grayson Perry

The Provincial Punk exhibition.

You’ve got to love someone who made an artwork called “Football stands for everything I hate”. (Well, I’ve got to anyway, because it does.) You’ve also got to love an artist who has a retrospective exhibition called Provincial Punk.

You’ve got to go and see it, too (well, I had to anyway because I identify as Provincial Punk), so I went off to Margate to have a look. It’s the first time I’ve seen any of Grayson Perry’s work outside of the telly or a magazine, and I loved it.

So why is he a provincial punk?  He talks in the sleeve notes (sorry, programme notes) about: “some sort of spirit in my work that still goes on to this day. It is a very creative force, a willingness to turn things over, to not accept the fashion and to have a bit of fun. It is a kind of teasing rebellion.”

It’s playful, like punk, and subversive, too, which I liked. For example, a short film of a young Grayson pretending to be a bored housewife, to the soundtrack of Walk on the Wild Side.  And there is plenty there, of course, to upset the bourgeoisie. “Sex and drugs and earthenware” as it says in the title of another piece.

I laughed out loud at a lot of the exhibition but it made you think, too, about class and culture and identity – all things that punk called into question. Apart from the pots, there were old-fashioned etchings with, in old-fashioned writing, lots of tiny slogans: buzzwords and banalities contrived to make you think about who you really are.

Print for a Politician is there to make you think “which side are you on?” but you can’t pick just one: I got punk, trade unionist, adult, good people, locals, non-smokers, childless couples, Labour, heterosexual, townies, provincials, northerners – and there were probably more. The one that made me laugh the most just said “Them”.

I loved Grayson Perry before I saw the show, of course. I love him because I saw the Channel 4 series Grayson Perry - Who Are You? and he came across as someone fundamentally compassionate.

I love him because I read an interview in the Guardian magazine where he talked about identity in a way that made more sense than anything else I’ve read. Using the analogy of tapestry, he explained that all 20 colours are present right across the tapestry, but the machine brings the colour to the surface when it’s needed. “We’ve got all of ourselves there, but the bit that’s necessary in any given moment comes to the surface.”

In the same interview, he also described cynicism as “the last refuge of the undying romantic”. I couldn’t resist that.

I love him because he talked sense and was unpretentious and funny in How to Be Bohemian with Victoria Coren Mitchell and because he talks sense and is unpretentious and funny in his book Playing to the Gallery.

He talks about how there is no cutting edge in art any more, and he could be talking about music: “Yeah, had that idea already, but that’s a great version of it.”  And about how there’s no way to be rebellious either: “All the things that were once seen as subversive and dangerous…crop up on X Factor now on a Saturday night.”

And he talks about art college as a home for “young people who feel a bad fit with their families or with wider society”. And, after all, that’s what punk was, too.

I got the badge.

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