A homage to the unknown craftman

When I first saw the exhibition Grayson Perry The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman advertised early last year I have been very much looking forward to seeing it. Unlike so many ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions this one certainly didn’t disappoint. I have to date spent two most enjoyable visits to this wonderful exhibition and hope to manage at least one more.

I was intrigued by the idea of the exhibition, as a homage to all the thousands of craftsmen through the ages, their names unknown but their works stand before us in museums and sites around the world of both exceptional quality and beauty. When looking at the Art of the Ancient world do we know who carved the exquisite Kouros, who toiled in the claustrophobic tunnels of tombs decorating every surface, and who painted the beautiful and haunting Roman Mummy Portraits? Particularly when in the current contemporary art scene name and ‘celebrity’ seem to be everything, and I’m not going to name names here!

Grayson Perry RA curates an exhibition of objects and artifacts from the British Museums vast collection which are shown alongside his own works. A wonderful sense of humour, intelligence and a tremendous respect of the art of the ancients and humanity runs throughout the exhibition. Of his exhibition the artist writes…

‘This is a memorial to all the anonymous craftsmen that over the centuries have fashioned the manmade wonders of the world… The craftsman’s anonymity I find especially resonant in an age of the celebrity artist’. (Grayson Perry RA, Turner Prize winner)

I recently attended a lecture that Grayson Perry gave at the BM in which he talked about his reasons for selecting the pieces he did, and about his ideas and working processes. A most inspiring and extremely entertaining evening. I very much like his idea of the British Museum as a place of modern pilgrimage, for us all to go to study and experience cultures and wonders from all over the world.

Many exhibits have been dug out of the huge store of the BM to support Graysons own work, pieces that could be seen to be influencing his work. Surprisingly though many have been found afterwards, sometimes many years after a particular work has been made. Here is a link to a recent British Museum blog written by Philippa Perry, Graysons wife, about his Making Connections with his own work.


Over the years I have made work in response to the art of the ancients, in particular from the sculpture of Ancient Greece and Egypt. A number of recent drawings and drypoint etchings have been inspired by sculpture found in both London and Luxor Museums. The way light touches the surface of a sculpture creates stunning contrasts, a beautiful softness of tone when seen against the richness and depth of tone in the shadows that is both dramatic and exciting. It is the passage of time shown on the surface that I find particularly interesting.

Koptos Temple, Egyptian Stelae II, found in the Petrie Museum

I very much like the idea of showing artworks within a museum setting. This is something I have done with the Petrie Museum UCL, who have hosted two exhibitions of my Egyptian work which has been hung throughout the museum, amongst the exhibits from Ancient Egypt and Sudan. This is quite a humbling experience seeing your own work next to such an important collection, yet it is a perfect setting. Much more sympathetic than hanging the pieces in an art gallery ‘white cube’ environment, devoid of these influences and history.

Statue of God Amun at Karnak, found in Luxor Museum

My new exhibition Luxor: People & Places will be opening at the Petrie Museum on Jan 7th and will run until 31st March. Only 5 minutes away from the British Museum!

Grayson Perry The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman is showing at the British Museum until 19th February 2012. Thoroughly recommended, don’t miss it.

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This entry was posted in British Museum, Exhibition, Grayson Perry, London, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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