Patricia Nell Warren

Grayson Perry -- Polymorphous Political Potter

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | December 11, 2008 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Entertainment, Entertainment, Living, Media
Tags: LGBT artists, Ovation TV, politics in the arts, pop culture, potters, pottery, transvestite

While the activists do their thing, the creative people continue to do theirs. Filmmakers make films, authors write books, painters paint...and British transvestite potter Grayson Perry makes pots. But these are not your typical high-art pots that make an elegant but neutral design statement on a spotlit stand in some Architectural Digest living room.

Grayson's giant urns jump off their stands at you. Each is covered with a welter of rude and disturbing images that dig deep into contemporary pop culture -- everything from childhood terrors about traditional religion to tabloid icons and scary news events. Grayson has taken that inoffensive, non-political thing called "ceramics" and made it political, offensive and controversial.

Ovation TV is currently profiling this British phenomenon, who has become popular in his own country and won the UK's prestigious Turner Prize in 2003.

Perry is two people, really. There is Grayson, who is private and does the potting. He looks to be 40 something, a maturing Beatle in a Sixties haircut and T-shirt. And there is Claire, who -- he emphasizes -- does not pot.

Claire handles the public appearances in wig, makeup, little-girl shoes and ankle socks. To accept the Turner Award, she wore one of the extravagent frocks that Grayson designs on the side -- in this case it was lavender satin embroidered with more motifs from his pots. The ensemble would definitely leave everybody open-mouthed on the red carpet at the Golden Globes. Claire is a work of art in her own right -- a muse-like figure who embodies and expresses what he does with the pots.

Grayson's work is highly appreciated in Europe, but little known in the U.S. outside of New York shows and galleries. Now Ovation TV introduces him to a wider audience. In the on-camera interview, he comes across as down-to-earth, fun-loving and unpretentious. "I'm an artist," he says, "because I like to create art."

Here in the U.S., Perry might be considered anything but politically correct by our embattled community. He has a wife, Philipa, and he's apparently not out to change his gender --- instead, he celebrates both sides of his powerful Two-Spirit sense of self. On the other hand, many of our American LGBT citizens might relish his images of distorted faith-gone-wrong that crawl down the sides of his epic pots, which have names like "Cuddly Toy Caught in Barbed Wire" and "Transvestite Brides of Christ."

In his Ovation TV profile, Perry mentions that he is now branching away from that long line of archetypical pots that he has created for a quarter century. Now he's going towards actual sculptured ceramic figures.

At the moment, his obsessive icon is a favorite teddy bear that he had as a kid. "I'm turning the bear into a God," he says. In one work, the teddy bear replaces the Virgin Mary in a ceramic rendition of those kitschy roadside shrines so popular in Europe. The fundies would not be amused.

Ovation TV is a channel for people who say there's never anything good on TV. It focuses on the arts, both fine and performing, including independent film, and can be found on Dish Network, Direct TV and Time Warner Cable.

I'm watching the unapologetic way in which Ovation TV presents gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender figures in the arts. It's an arena of our achievement that we shouldn't lose sight of.

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I can see the similarity of the Teddy Bear and the Virgin Mary. Both are delusional solacing objects as is Mary's asexual son. I like the fuzzy soft one to cuddle in bed, but the hard cold ceramic virgin leaves me cold.

Pottery entitled "Cuddly Toy Caught in Barbed Wire" and "Transvestite Brides of Christ"? They sound like sculpture names already, so now that he's moving into figures, I wonder what he'll call those.

Wouldn't it be funny if they got names that sound more like a pot?

The best part about art is often the artist. I don't doubt this is the case here too. Grayson sounds fascinating.

There are very few CD's in the public eye. Grayson sounds like an interesting person to bring attention to that identity.