Each month I give my verdict on who has shown the world an interesting and distinctive brand. My latest personal brand of the month goes to…
I saw Grayson earlier this month as a guest lecturer at the London College of Fashion to launch its brand-new Masculinities Hub, and I was simply captivated by him. He showed up as his persona “Claire”, in a bright yellow wig and baby doll dress to speak about…the concept of masculinity of course. While there’s little debate that this “alter-ego” side of his personal brand is outrageous and challenging, he still manages to come across as, well, Grayson. His authenticity is unmistakable.
So who is Grayson Perry and why is his brand so intriguing?
A unique Turner Prize winning British artist and CBE
Grayson has received “proper” recognition in Britain, including winning the Turner Prize in 2003 and then being appointed as a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2014. Grayson became best known for his ceramic pots, hand-stitched quilts, and, of course, his style of dress. His distinct work is often described as a sort of “cosmopolitan folk-art”. Form is rarely married to content in Grayson’s world. Take, for example, his classical urns and pots (which include traditional Japanese, Chinese and Islamic styles) that are adorned with highly detailed friezes capturing the maladies of contemporary society: everything from car-wrecks and child abduction to mobile phones and supermodels. His work is beautifully yet misleadingly seductive, as are his narratives, which almost always take on challenging, bizarre or psychologically complex themes.
A Masterful Storyteller
Through his craft, Grayson is not only a commentator on modern society and culture, he also tackles issues of class, taste, consumerism, religion, gender, politics and war head on. His work also takes on a very personal side, conveying his darker auto-biographical narratives, including issues of his own identity development and sense of belonging. His “little girl” vases, for example, reference his proclivity for wearing baby doll dresses, and chronicle the questionable male role-models in his past alongside of the burgeoning sexuality of his youth.
An effective communicator across diverse channels
Books, documentaries, lectures, exhibitions…Grayson uses them all as vehicles of expression. In his most recent book, The Decent of Man, Grayson challenges the concept of masculinity and stereotypes. He asks us: “What would happen if we rethought the old, macho, outdated version of manhood, and embraced a different idea of what makes a man?”
To get a fantastic sense of Grayson, you just have to check out last year’s Channel 4 series All Man, exploring British contemporary masculinity and stereotypes, or the 2014 Channel 4 series Who Are You?, exploring British identity for a series of works.
Grayson’s authenticity shines through in both his artwork and his character. His
passionate commentary on the flawed or challenging constructs of our society resonates through his art, and for this he is unapologetic. As he explains: “People say, ‘why do you need to put sex, violence or politics or some kind of social commentary into my work?’ Without it, it would be pottery. I think that crude melding of those two parts is what makes my work.”
His “outer brand” is as unique as it is authentic, even when it takes the form of Claire. Grayson, who describes himself openly as a transvestite, makes it clear that he never tries to “pass” as a woman; he is very much a man in a woman’s dress. Behind the outlandish dresses and exaggerated baby doll make-up, it is always Grayson.
Grayson explains that, as a child, he was unaware of transvestism and always considered himself a “freak”. It was part of his identity he would keep secret for many years. Grayson shares that he always knew that he wasn’t gay, nor did he ever want to be a woman. For him, it was a part of his sexuality and identity, one that he is quite comfortable talking about and sharing with the world.
Grayson with his wife Phillipa
and their daughter Flo.
Perhaps Grayson says it best: “We’re only here once and I want to get as much out of it possible. And as an artist, my job is to be as much “me” as possible.”