Monday, 9 November 2009

Branded

Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell, there’s no doubt that you’ll already know the distinctive figure of Grayson Perry. The 2003 Turner Prize winner, whose transvestite alter ego Claire was courted by a bemused press at the time, uses traditionally ‘safe’ media such as ceramics and textiles to communicate shocking modern issues.

This month’s exhibition at the Victoria Miro gallery features Perry’s largest work to date, a 3m x 15m tapestry, which was designed specifically for the gallery’s top floor exhibition space. Depicting a life that stretches from womb to tomb, the Walthamstow Tapestry is scattered with numerous brand names that have been stripped of their distinctive logos. Paired often with incongruous scenes from daily life – a folk art hair hops over a scribbled ‘durex’ – the tapestry demonstrates how heavily branding is woven into everyday life. How alien they look without their emblems, alone, a bizarre collection of letters.

Striking lime greens and a scarlet and fuchsia umbilical cord anchor the piece firmly in the 21st century but its naïve style draws upon the folk art of eastern Europe and the Arts and Crafts movement. It’s an impressive piece both in size and detail and, from ex-hippies to hoodies, chronicles contemporary life in all its triumph, anger and inanity.

Alongside the tapestry, a large body of Perry’s new work is on display including a number of large etchings and ceramic pieces. Despite dealing with dark subject matter such as child abuse, political hypocrisy and environment apocalypse, Perry’s work is also delicate and beautiful. Sumptuous glazes, graffito drawings and decoupage photographs cover his curvaceous pots, luring viewers close before confronting them with uncomfortable ideas.

The winning combination of a Turner Prize artist, a crowd-drawing hit piece and the gallery’s stunning views over the east London rooftops, meant that this was always going to be a monumental exhibition. But smartly calculated to coincide with the release of a major new book (Grayson Perry by Jacky Klein, Thames and Hudson, £35), it’s also an interesting admission that even artists are not above branding, consumerism and well-timed self promotion.

Grayson Perry – The Walthamstow Tapestry runs until the 14th November

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