Artist Grayson Perry: “I Describe Myself as ‘Gender Rigid’”

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Grayson Perry in AnOther Magazine A/W11Photography by Johnnie Shand Kydd

The Turner Prize winning artist hosted a talk at the Sarabande Foundation last night that shed light on his thoughts on gender what he values in a creative life

In its Haggerston home, the Sarabande Foundation – which, since its inception in 2007 by Lee Alexander McQueen, has supported young and exciting talent working in fashion and beyond with highly subsidised studio spaces, university scholarship schemes and industry mentoring – hosts talks, seminars and workshops that are also open to the public. As part of its ‘Inspiration Series’, artist Grayson Perry spoke at the foundation this week, in a talk he titled Winging It.

With trademark wit and irreverence, Perry discussed his life and career, and how concepts like identity and gender can easily become controversial talking points today. “‘Identity’ is a word that comes up a lot nowadays, it always makes me slightly frightened because I know I’m going to get told off for something if the word ‘identity’ comes up. Here’s what I am, I’m Grayson Perry, Turner Prize winner – that’s my full name [laughs]. We’ve all got a multiplicity of identities – what’s our headline of our identity? It changes all the time. Here I am, I’m a father, I’m a husband, I’m a TV presenter.” Gender has always been important for the artist, who has long cross dressed and whose 2016 book The Descent of Man addressed modern masculinity. “No one’s as sexist as a transvestite. We like gender roles. I always describe myself as gender rigid,” he laughed. “I signed up for a gender and I want them to be very clearly delineated so I know I’m dressing up in the wrong clothes.”

Fashion has also played a key role for Perry, who often wears his own designs. “As I was coming to this place I thought I’d better talk about fashion, clothes. They’re very important. I always think they’re a bit like the front garden: we don’t sit in the front garden and have a beer, but we do it for the street,” he said. “Your front garden makes the street nice so when people dress up for a party, it makes the party nice. So when people dress up in the street, it makes the street a nice place to be. When people wear boring black clothes in the street, they’re basically just a load of wheelie bins going past.” If not in clothes of his own making, the artist might just be in a creation by a Central Saint Martins student; every year, print students are asked to “design a lovely dress for Grayson Perry”, who will wear it as his alter-ego, Claire. (In 2011, the process was documented for the pages of AnOther’s Autumn/Winter issue, as seen in the gallery below.)

Perry also offered advice on making the most of your creativity – from “getting physical” with exercise (Perry is a keen mountain biker) and allowing for spontaneity to learning on the job and embracing your gimmick. “The most valuable creative thing you can be is spontaneous and trust your intuition,” he said. “When I first made pottery in evening classes, I didn’t know that it was going to be this huge thing for me, that it was going to be the centre, keystone of my career. I was just buggering about.”

“Sometimes I get students and they say ‘Oh Grayson, now you’ve won the Turner Prize does that mean that ceramics is going to be fashionable?’ And I always go ‘I’ve spoilt that for you, sorry.’ I’ve got that one – Grayson Perry, ceramicist, that’s me,” he continued. “Matching suits, Gilbert and George have got that one. Sharks, Damien Hirst. Balloon animals, Jeff Koons. They’ve all claimed their gimmick. You’ve got to have a gimmick, just find your own one.”

While previous talks at the foundation have been hosted by the likes of Juno Calypso and Martin Parr, next up in Sarabande’s Inspiration Series is the artist Yinka Shonibare. Beyond talks, Sarabande has exciting projects in the pipeline for the coming months. A newly announced pop-up space at JOYCE Hong Kong will see ten of the foundation’s artists take over a section of the store in May, featuring the likes of Joshua Beaty (Perry is pictured below meeting the artist and designer, who will create a window installation for the JOYCE takeover, at his talk), Craig Green and Judas Companion by Jasmin Reif. London Craft Week will also mark the launch of this year’s Ketel One Commission – the Dutch vodka company is a founding partner of the Sarabande Foundation – with an exhibition of work by Esna Su and Castro Smith. For more on what Sarabande has coming up, head to its website.