Friday, 8 April 2016

Art attack!

Photos weren't allowed, so this is all you're getting
Yesterday evening I went to a private viewing of 'The Vanity of Small Differences' by artist Grayson Perry, followed by a talk. Yesterday morning I didn't know I was going to see him (I'm sticking to the male pronoun as he refers to himself as male, even when he's in a frock), but Andrea had tickets and then friends dropped out, so I filled a seat for her. The viewing was at Bath's Victoria Art Gallery, and the talk was at the Assembly Rooms.

While a lot of modern British art leaves me cold, I actually do like Grayson Perry's work. Possibly it's the fact that he works in a traditional medium, ceramics, often in extremely traditional forms like bowls and vases, yet explores modernity within that medium and those forms. There's continuity of the past along with social comment and challenges to the viewer's thinking. I think that's clever; pots are tactile things that we're all familiar with. We can all engage with them. I'm far more likely to think about the scene on a pot than I am half a shark (and I reckon the pot takes far more crafting skill to produce, never mind notions of 'art').

The work on show wasn't ceramics, however. 'The Vanity of Small Differences' is a series of six tapestries. A Channel 4 series accompanied the making of it, but I never saw that. No matter. If you know your British art at all, you'll know Hogarth's series of etchings 'The Rake's Progress', charting the high life and fall of a Georgian ne'er-do-well. These tapestries show the rise and fall of their modern counterpart, one Tim Rakewell, born into a working-class family in the north-east, becomes a middle-class tech entrepreneur, and ends up rich but dying when he crashes his Ferrari. When he created the work Perry went to locations that epitomised Tim's life, starting in Sunderland, met people and explored the English class system and notions of taste.

Perry's talk was hilarious. He had plenty to say about English taste, and how 'good taste' is basically being inoffensive to your peers while still being noticeable. He said that he tried to dress to suit the venue when he gave a talk. I thought his outfit last night was quite Gothic Lolita; he wore a black blouse with long sleeves (gathered at the cuff) and a Peter Pan collar under a grey sleeveless smock dress. He said it was the closest he had to Georgian style; afterwards Andrea quite astutely said, "I wonder if he thinks Bath is a boring place, and that's why he didn't wear something more flamboyant." Possibly it was his nod to the muted colours of Farrow and Ball paint, which he associates with the city.

It's all about the pebble bowls
One thing that really fascinated Perry when making the tapestries was pebble bowls. He visited one house where on one windowsill was a dish of pebbles with a vase of catkins in it. After that, he kept looking out for pebble bowls. Everyone seemed to have one, yet these simple objects still seemed to speak volumes about the class and tastes of their owners: the flamboyant, mass-produced dish of them in a working-class hairdresser's home, the middle-class bowl of handmade ceramic pebbles, a wealthy architect's bowl of crystal spheres, and what he described as 'the ultimate pebble bowl', a truly posh person's dish of sea glass collected at the beach. The closest thing I have to a pebble bowl is a terrarium full of fossils and pebbles gathered in Dorset, so you now know I am utterly posh. (Ha!) With my cat-scragged sofa as well, I'm practically an aristocrat.

Sadly, he didn't mention charity shops
so I have no idea where chazzas feature
on Perry's class spectrum.
He's worked many of the things he saw into the tapestries. In the first tapestry, 'The Adoration of the Cage Fighters', one of the fighters is offering the infant Tim a miner's lantern, something Perry saw frequently as a decorative object in working-class homes in Sunderland. When Tim becomes middle-class, he moves into a world of William Morris wallpaper, agas and recycling, Jamie Oliver beaming down from the heavens (Perry dubbed Oliver 'The god of upward mobility').

The talk made me think a lot about taste, and class. I guess in Perry's terms I'm middle-class, because I have things like foreign crafts picked up on my travels and a couple of Cath Kidston duvet covers, though I'd rather buy a tin of Dulux than shell out for Farrow and Ball and I honestly couldn't see myself trying to hide my telly. (He literally had one woman run through her home ahead of the film crew saying, "DON'T FILM THE TELLY!") What do you think he'd make of your home? And do you have a pebble bowl? He's got me hooked on pebble bowls now.

TELL ME ABOUT YOUR PEBBLE BOWL.


30 comments :

  1. I don't even know what a pebble bowl is?! Gosh, I guess that makes me completely uncultured and slipping off the class scale somewhere...
    I wish we could hide our telly mind!

    Sounds like a fab talk, you're lucky to have stuff like that near you xx

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    1. It's just a decorative bowl of pebbles. Lots of people seem to end up with them. I don't know why!

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  2. I'd never heard of Grayson Perry (nor, like Porcelina, do I know what a pebble bowl is), but it sounds quite interesting, so thanks for broadening my horizon, Mim. xxx

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    1. He's a major contemporary British artist - I'd go out on a limb and say he's probably our best. Plenty of others are better-known globally, but there's something about Perry's work that makes it possible for most people to engage with it.

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  3. Mim

    I love Grayson Perry and I watched the series. It was fascinating! The talk/exhibition sounds fabulous - how lovely you were able to go.

    No, I don't have a pebble bowl but I do have pebbles and shells, bits of coral - and some sea glass on the mantel piece in my mobile home in Donegal. If we find interesting things on the beaches we put them there. I'm so not posh...

    I would be very interested to see what GP made of my style. I think it might be thought of as middle class although my roots are working class; I have lots of books and love to display them. I also like art and have lots of differing pictures everywhere and I love a bit of clutter in the form of mini collections of things such as Matryoshka dolls, paperweights,earrings, necklaces, pitchers all on display.

    I think your home reflects your personality and style in the same way clothes do and it is that that makes snooping about in other peoples homes and wardrobes so fascinating.

    Have a great week

    Veronica
    vronni60s.blogspot.com

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    1. Re: homes reflecting personality

      The funny thing about the pebble bowl that started the whole pebble bowl thing off was that it was in the house of a lady who had bought the show home on a new build estate - complete with contents, right down to the dressing gown on the back of the bathroom door. She didn't pick anything in it individually. Grayson seemed a little sad at that, as it seemed she was unwilling to express her own taste.

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  4. I have a terrarium with glass pebbles for drainage, but that's as close as we get to a pebble bowl. We have the world's tiniest television (the monitor on my laptop is not much smaller)and I don't feel the need to hide it.

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    1. I'm working class, I love my telly. THEY WILL NEVER TAKE IT AWAY FROM ME.

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  5. You're making me think "deep" this morning...
    Well, to be honest, I think above everything, and if the appliances are ignored, by looking at MY home, he'd surely get some inspiration. There's that LOW doorway ("Mind the head" is what I tell everyone as they enter, because the door is so low, you will surely think Hobits lived there before me). Then, when giving an overall loo, there is that "lost in time" feeling, since this house is a reconstruction of the 1900's original.
    As for things inside.. no pebble bowl, sorry. However, I'll do you one better: plastic flowers! Ha! HA! Winter was long, I needed a splash of friendly color to welcome me when I come home after working loooong hours - so: plastic bouquet. :)
    Posh?
    Me, not! Verdict would be: kitsch. :)
    M.

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    1. Kitsch is good! And at least plastic flowers are easy to look after.

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  6. I love Grayson Perry, lucky you to be able to go and see him in person.

    I am the poshest of posh because I have not one but three pebble bowls! Two with stones, shells, driftwood etc I've collected on various beach trips and one full of just sea glass.

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    1. Oooh, you toff, you!

      Grayson Perry is my new girl crush ;-)

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  7. I'd never heard of a pebble bowl.
    I can't stand Jamie Oliver or his ever changing accent.
    Oh you class obsessed Britishers! (Spoken in my best Hinglish)
    I guess the closest thing we have to what Mr Perry is talking about in the US are the overly entitled Yuppies with their Volvos, Birkenstocks, vegan gluten free sriracha flax clean eating nuttiness as well as recycling & agas such.

    I think Mr Perry would like my mismatched day-cor up here at the Himalayan Hovel. Salmon pink walls, white marble floors with green marble baseboards, purple & orange mandala bedspread, maroon cat scragged chenille sofa, wonky handmade windows that leak, huge homemade desk & bookcases with books & papers stacked everywhere. I know I'm high falootin' around here because I have FURNITURE! Our telly's the only one on this side of town too. La ti freakin' da! I have geckos that chirp living in my house too, why on earth would I need a pebble bowl with all this loveliness going on?

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    1. Pebble bowls are a bit odd. They're just a decorative object that seems to have become commonplace, yet no-one really thinks about.

      We are class-obsessed. I think it's something very few other nations understand: that it is the great intersector and intersects with everything, and usually trumps everything as well.

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  8. Educational online resource so people can see the themes of the talk and images, not sure if it has the pebble bowl or twigs in a vase. 😀 Will see if I can find the photos of pebble bowls. http://www.artscouncilcollection.org.uk/file/18675/download

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  9. Excellent! I love Grayson Perry's work having been a fan for many years I didn't actually get to see any of his work in person until last year! x

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    1. It was amazing, I found it really impressive and engaging.

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  10. The pebble bowl along with coloured glass pebble shapes (I use in flower arranging) and decorative balls all might be more of a sign of decorate taste in the early 2000's here a link to making deco balls. http://www.myrepurposedlife.com/decorative-jute-balls/

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  11. I had never heard of a pebble bowl

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    1. It's just a decorative object, really. It had never occurred to me how commonplace they were till he brought the subject up. He seems very interested in the ephemera of life.

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  12. I love Grayson Perry. We had an Alan Measles vase on loan at Walsall Art Gallery a few years ago and I kept returning to admire it.
    I don't know what he'd make of me, I've never heard of a pebble bowl but I've got a wicked collection of hideous big eyed child prints mixed with my Victorian antiques. xxx

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    1. I didn't deliberately acquire a decorative bowl of rocks, I collected rocks on my travels and needed something to put them in. The notion of buying a bowl of rocks/glass beads/whatever strikes me as a bit strange, but I suppose it's no odder than any other ornament, really.

      I expect he would LOVE you. He seems to adore colour and pattern and personality.

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  13. I have a collection of pebbles from different beaches I've been to (yes, I know this is technically illegal, but I'd like to see them prove it!) but I don't have them in a bowl, they're just haphazardly placed on the kitchen window sill. What does that say about me?! xx

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  14. I'm a huge fan of GP, mainly as a result of the two TV series I've seen, actually. The first was about class, but not I think this project you describe, and the second one was about tribes and identity. Oh, not forgetting the house he built! So fascinating, and he's so insightful, but I also love his manner and the way he reflects things back at people without offending them, even when sometimes he's highlighting things people might feel vulnerable about. It's great to see a man dressing up like he does, too, because he's confident enough in his own identity to carry it off, which can only help other people who may struggle more. Yep, he's great. I'd love to hear him speak. The pebble bowl thing made me laugh. Don't have one. I've no idea what he would make of my house, but I'd be interested to hear his prognosis. Xxx

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    1. His next series is about masculinity, and it struck me that he's the perfect person for it - not conforming to the stereotypes, while happy in his male identity. The talk made me wish i'd seen his TV programmes.

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  15. That sounds like a thoroughly engaging talk. Pebble bowls haven't caught on to quite the same degree here (nor as the urge to hid one's TV), but a lot of things do go through home decor trends en mass (from Mason jars to vinyl wall "stickers" to faux hunting trophy style animal heads made out of wood, ceramic, cardboard, etc - and many others). There's nothing wrong with such per se, trends have been around for eons, but I do veer towards a bit more individuality myself usually and will usually only buy something for my house or wardrobe if I would purchase it (because I adore it) regardless of it was in vogue at the moment or not.

    ♥ Jessica

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    1. I think the pebble bowls aren't things people buy because they have to have one, it's just something people end up with. A decorative thing to fill in a gap. I guess 20-50 years ago people would have more figurative ornaments, but they're not really popular nowadays. (Thinks: I wonder how people DO acquire ornaments? As gifts? We get decorative items on our travels, but even then, they're usually functional as well as attractive.)

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  16. I love Grayson Perry's work. I saw the programmes on The Vanity of Small Differences and then I saw the tapestries when they were exhibited in Manchester. I couldn't believe how vivid and detailed they were, it was like the more you looked the more you saw. The scale of them surprised me to. Must have been a great evening.

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    1. Yes, they're enormous, aren't they? I loved the way he replicated things like William Morris wallpaper, so all the little details were really identifiable. The tapestries are eyecatching from a distance and interesting up close.

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