The Vanity of Small Differences

Since I first came across a collection of his striking Ceramic vases in the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow a number of years ago I have had a great admiration for the work of Grayson Perry. Since then I have continued to follow his work and I particularly enjoyed my visits to his recent and inspiring exhibition, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman.

Grayson Perry RA works with very traditional media including; ceramics, tapestry, printmaking and cast iron and bronze.

Perry’s current exhibition The Vanity of Small Differences at Victoria Miro brings together six tapestries inspired by his travels amongst the ‘taste tribes’ of Great Britain and explores his fascination with taste, social class and it’s influence on our lifestyle. The Artists journey, which took him from Sunderland, to Tunbridge Wells and the Cotswolds has recently been shown on Channel 4 in the series All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry. The information he gathers, and the characters he meets during these three programmes have been quite literally woven into an ambitious narrative which runs throughout the tapestries.

William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress (1732 – 33) which charts the rise and fall of Tom Rakewell in a series of eight paintings is the primary inspiration for the six tapestries.  Perry’s The Vanity of Small Differences tells us the story of Tim Rakewell which is cleverly interwoven with the people, places, interiors and objects of the contrasting social groups he met throughout Britain. At times humorous, poignant and tragic, the tapestries document the rise and fall of Perry’s hero.  Looking at each tapestry, amongst an incredibly detailed narrative, I was immediately struck by it’s homage to, or ‘quote’ from a religious painting.

Each composition contains an immense amount of information, echoing Hogarth’s paintings. Even a Hogarth pug can be found within each tapestry. Many written descriptions or quotes from a character in each work weave their way throughout the imagery, along with the Artists acute observations of modern life within the classes.  We are given very detailed descriptions on the way of life, interior decorations and fashion in 2012. Themes and ideas relevant to us now, with motifs of ‘modern living’, from i-phones and i-pads, to very recognizable consumer brands are visible in each tapestry with ‘Modern moral subjects’ not so different from the time of Hogarth’s epic moral tale.

The Adoration of the Cage Fighters, 2012

The Agony in the Car Park, 2012

Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close, 2012

The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal, 2012

The Upper Class at Bay, 2012

#Lamentation, 2012

What interested me the most when looking at these elaborately detailed and colourful tapestries was the way in which Grayson Perry references religious imagery in many of the works. #Lamentation (above) pays homage to Rogier Van Der Weyden’s beautiful Lamentation. Grayson Perry’s favourite form of art is Early Renaissance Painting, in particular the work of Flemish painter Rogier Van Der Weyden. This period of painting is the second influence on this series of works.

Below we see details from the tapestries showing a direct influence from a number of religious paintings: Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, a Crucifixion from Grunewald’s Isenheim Alterpiece, An Annunciation inspired by Crivelli, Grunewald and Robert Campin, and of course the Lamentation by Van Der Weyden. The mother and child (complete with i-phone) with boxers kneeling in front of her offering up gifts, is immediately recognizable as a Nativity.
A shattered i-phone lays on the ground near the body of Tim Rakewell in the final scene, cradled in the arms of a nurse who strikingly resembles his mother from the first tapestry of the series. Other works referenced are Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Wedding and Gainsborough’s Mr & Mrs Andrews.

Comments and observations on modern life are continued onto three new vases which are also featured in the exhibition. These are beautifully crafted with their seductive surfaces crammed full of imagery and references to current trends and fashions, observed with a wonderful English sense of humour and exquisitely made.

‘A Work in Progress’, 2012 Glazed ceramic with ‘RA Pot’, 2012, pen and felt tip on paper in the background

‘A Work in Progress’ (detail)

‘Voting Patterns’, 2012 Glazed ceramic

My personal favourite ‘The Existential Void’, 2012 Glazed ceramic

‘The Existential Void’ (detail)

let’s hope not!

One of the many portraits I would love to paint…

Grayson Perry The Vanity of Small Differences runs until 11 August 2012 at Victoria Miro Gallery, 16 Wharf Road, London N1

This entry was posted in British Museum, Drawing, Exhibition, Grayson Perry, London, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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