Who is Grayson Perry?

  • 13 October 2011

He's a Turner Prize winner, a transvestite, and appears regularly on television panel shows, but how well do you know Grayson Perry? Get to know one of Britain's most controversial artists better with our fact file.

Grayson Perry © Mark Crick

Grayson Perry

He’s a Turner Prize winner, a potter and – occasionally – a she. He appears regularly on television panel shows, and the British Museum recently gave him free rein over its collection to curate a major exhibition featuring his work alongside historical objects.

His ‘alter-ego’ Claire and teddy bear Alan Measles are well known, but how well do you know Grayson Perry? Get to know one of Britain’s most controversial artists better with our fact file.

Artistic career

Born in Chelmsford, Perry studied fine art at Portsmouth Polytechnic after turning his back on plans to join the army. After graduating he began taking pottery lessons in September 1983, and held his first solo show of ceramics in December that year.

Perry was awarded the Turner Prize in 2003, from a shortlist that also included Jake & Dinos Chapman, Willie Doherty and Anya Gallaccio. In 2011 he was elected to the Royal Academy, and curated the exhibition Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman at the British Museum.

Perry's art

Perry has never produced a 'signature' piece, maybe because his public persona tends to overshadow his art – Hirst had his shark in formaldehyde, Emin her bed, but the 'transvestite potter from Essex' is more associated with his crossdressing than his pots.

Nevertheless, Perry has an identifiable style. His craftsmanship is employed to create pots and vases decorated with a range of techniques, from hand-painted designs and photographic transfers to elaborate gilding and glazes. The resulting works often portray imagined narratives or events with a socially or sexually subversive message.

All of these techniques can be seen in Perry's Art Funded piece, The Chelmsford Sissies, a pot depicting a fictional transvestite festival inspired by the real-life story of the Chelmsford Sissies. While Perry's body of work is dominated by pots, he has also produced sculpture, photography and textiles.

Grayson Perry as Claire © Grayson Perry, courtesy Victoria Miro Gallery, London / Photo: Mark Waugh

Grayson Perry as Claire

Claire

When most people think of Grayson Perry, the first image that comes to mind is likely to be Claire, his female 'alter-ego' whose gaudy dresses and disconcertingly masculine jaw line have graced events as diverse as Question Time and the Turner Prize award ceremony.

Claire is an established feature of Perry's 'imaginary world', appearing as a recurring character on his ceramics. Recently, however, Perry has called into question whether she can be considered a genuine alter ego, saying it's "just me in a frock" and that if he'd begun crossdressing later in life, he'd have done so under his own name.

Perhaps Perry's efforts to distance himself from his female identity reflect a desire to move the media spotlight away from his 'performance art' and towards his pottery, which has recently taken centre stage in what Howard Jacobson described as 'the best exhibition by a contemporary artist I’ve seen in years’.

Alan Measles

Like Claire, Alan Measles has a well developed role in Perry's public persona as a "50-year-old teddy bear, dictator and God of the imaginary world of artist Grayson Perry". Perry has described Measles as a surrogate father figure – Perry's father left the family when he was seven, and the artist doesn't speak to his stepfather.

Measles's Twitter profile and blog are thinly veiled mouthpieces for Perry himself, through which he discusses everything from literature to cultural identity ("If Proust had lived in Essex it would have been all about Marmite on toast"). As Measles, Perry has one of the largest online presences of any British artist, blogging on a weekly basis. For anyone who wants to know Perry better, Measles's blog is the perfect place to start.

Get 50% off entry to Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman at the British Museum with National Art Pass.