Artist Grayson Perry by Daniel BoudSydney Opera House
In 2003, Walthamstow-based artist Grayson Perry was awarded the Turner Prize for his work in ceramics. He was credited with recasting Classical forms of iconography in a contemporary mold, making pots which explored themes of sexuality, personal identity, and political violence.
For a while, Perry was known predominantly as a ceramic artist (alongside the elements of public performance which cross-dressing always brought to his work). But in 2009, in his Walthamstow studio, he created a piece which signalled a new and fruitful direction in his art, and perhaps contemporary art as a whole: a huge tapestry woven on a digital loom. The Walthamstow Tapestry.
The Walthamstow Tapestry (2009) by Grayson PerryBonnefantenmuseum
The work draws on the art of story-cycles, taking inspiration from ancient history (cave paintings and hieroglyphics), as well as of course from Medieval narrative art like the Bayeux tapestry.
Perry follows the Seven Ages of Man, in the manner of Medieval morality traditions, but also draws on the satirical and often graphic humor of British humorists like William Hogarth or even painters like Bruegel.
A child is born at the extreme left of the tapestry…
...and advances through life in stages....
...before his path, and the strange red thread which runs parallel to his journey, and seems to represent some kind of life-blood, both feed into the mouth of a demon-like creature, and the man himself lies on his deathbed.
Along the way he is beset on all sides by targeted, branded advertizing, which adds an alarming noise to his path through life.
The picture is a moving and slightly terrifying depiction of contemporary man, as well as a complex meditation on the ideas of human craftsmanship in the face of advancing technology. Perry used a Flemish digital loom to create the piece, but deliberately made ‘errors’ in the stitching, believing that these are the defining marks of a craftsman.