Grayson Perry ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’

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This work consists of six large scale tapestries, all of which explore British class and taste. ‘…social class determines one’s taste, something bred into us like a religious faith.’ The different classes are represented via the changing life of Tim Rakewell, a character of Perry’s invention. The tapestries are hung in chronological order showing Tim as an infant, a child, teenager, parent, retired and dead. As he grows up his class and tastes change. Perry’s choice of imagery, from interior design and cuisine to political views, is how as a spectator we can identify  Tim’s status developing. We are able to recognise things in our own lives, and realise how prevalent class really is in our society. Perry wanted to focus on the emotional investment we make in the things we choose to live with, wear, eat, read or drive. It is this emotional charge which draws him to the subject.

Perry usually chooses a medium because of the resonance it has acquired. Tapestries are grand usually depicting classical myths or military victory’s. The status of tapestries throughout history comes down to their huge cost, and the enormous amount of skilled labour to produce them. This historical context of the tapestry is translated onto Perry’s works, even though his subject matter has strayed from tradition.

Alongside these tapestries Perry produced a three-part documentary entitled ‘All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry’ on Channel 4. He used the making of this program as research for his tapestries. ‘We usually only become aware of these unconscious choices when we move between the social classes.’ The documentary took place in Sunderland, Tunbridge Wells and the Cotswolds because they are each already strongly identified with the social classes. Sunderland has a proud working class heritage, Tunbridge Wells is very middle class and the Cotswolds are associated with the upper class.

Perry’s overall inspiration for this series came from William Hogarth’s ‘A Rake’s Progress’ which is a collection of eight paintings telling the story of a man named Tom Rakewell. He is a young man who inherits a fortune from his miserly father, spends it all on fashionable pursuits and gambling, marries for money, gambles away a second fortune, goes to debtors’ prison and dies in a madhouse.

Each of the tapestries takes individual inspiration from early religious renascence paintings. ‘Taking inspiration from older works is itself a very middle class thing to do’, he says ‘as it flatters the education and the cultural capital of the audience’ 

In addition, woven into each tapestry are snatches of text, each one in the voice of a participant of the scene illustrated. Also included is a small dog, reminiscent of Hogarth’s beloved pug, Trump.

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Author: Crisiant Williams

I am a Fine Art student, studying at Cardiff School of Art and Design.

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