Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years
Major new exhibition – 28 May – 5 September 2021
A major new exhibition featuring the earliest works and “lost pots” of one of Britain’s most well known artists is coming to York next summer.
Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years will be showcased from 28 May to 5 September 2021 at the Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA) at York Art Gallery.
The touring exhibition, developed by the Holburne Museum in Bath, is the first to celebrate Grayson Perry’s earliest forays into the art world and will re-introduce the explosive and creative works he made between 1982 and 1994.
The remarkable 70 works included in the exhibition have been crowd-sourced following a national public appeal. These ‘lost’ pots will be on display together for the first time since they were made.
Dr Helen Walsh, curator of ceramics, said: “We are delighted to be showcasing the ground-breaking early works of such a renowned and influential artist.
“It is fascinating to see how his craft has progressed and evolved since he began working as an artist. His early ceramic works show that the distinctive style, themes and characters have always been central in his decoration.
“To be able to bring these works together for public display, many of which are usually hidden away in private collections, is absolutely thrilling.
“We are very much looking forward to seeing Grayson Perry’s ceramic works displayed in the beautiful Centre of Ceramic Art at York Art Gallery alongside our own collection of Britsih Studio Ceramics.”
Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years
The exhibition will shine a light on Perry’s experimentation and exploration of the potential of pottery to address radical issues and human stories. For art lovers, Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years represents a unique opportunity to enjoy the artist’s clever, playful and politically-engaged perspective on the world through a number of pieces, many of which have not been seen in public since they were first exhibited. Often challenging and explicit, these works reveal the early development of Perry’s distinctive voice that has established him as one of the most compelling commentators on contemporary society.
Explaining how the exhibition came together, its Curator Catrin Jones said: ‘When we proposed the exhibition, Grayson responded really positively because, he said, “no one knows where those works are”. So, we asked the public and were absolutely overwhelmed by the response. What followed was an extraordinary process of rediscovery as we were contacted by collectors, enthusiasts and friends, who collectively held over 150 of his early works. Our first task was processing photos of the wonderful pots, plates and drawings which arrived in our inbox, and asking all sorts of questions about the works and where they came from. We logged all the pottery marks and provenance information, as well as the wonderful stories of how their owner came to have a genuine Grayson Perry.’
Catrin and her team then sat down with Perry to look through the extraordinary and varied selection of artworks and it was during this process that Grayson remarked that seeing the works again was a powerful reminder of his “pre-therapy years.”
The exhibition begins with Perry’s early collaged sketchbooks, experimental films and sculptures, capturing his move into using ceramics as his primary medium. From his first plate, Kinky Sex (1983), to his early vases made in the mid-80s, Perry riffed on British vernacular traditions to create a language of his own. The themes of his later work – fetishism, gender, class, his home county of Essex, and the vagaries of the art world – appear in works of explosive energy. Although the majority of his output consisted of vases and plates, Perry’s early experiments with form demonstrate the variety of shapes he produced: Toby jugs, perfume bottles, porringers, funeral urns and gargoyle heads.
Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years begins in 1982, when Perry was first working as an artist and then charts his progress to the mid-90s, when he became established in the mainstream London art scene. The exhibition provides a snapshot of a very British time and place, and reveals the transition of Grayson’s style from playful riffs on historic art, such as old Staffordshire pottery, along with crowns (the mixed-media Crown of Penii, 1982) and thrones (Saint Diana, let them eat shit, 1984 – inspired by his fascination with Princess Diana) into a style that is patently his own: plates and vases rich with detail that tell tales of our times and experiences, such as 1989’s Cocktail Party.
Much of the iconography of Perry’s output has an angry, post-punk, deeply ironic leaning, combining cosy imagery with shocking sexual or political content.
Many of the works displayed in the Pre-Therapy Years tell a very personal story, particularly in the evolution of Claire, who first appeared in the early 80’s inspired by such powerful women as television newsreaders and Princess Diana, rather than the exuberant child-like figure Perry created after her ‘coming out’ party in 2000.
Accompanying the remarkable rediscovery of Perry’s artworks, The Holburne Museum will illustrate the exhibition with photos and snapshots of the era, again sharing hitherto unseen glimpses of Perry as he journeyed from angry, ironic young artist to one of British art’s best-loved figures.
After completing his art degree at Portsmouth in 1982, Perry moved to London and lived in a Camden squat with Marilyn and the Welsh conceptual artist, Cerith Wyn Evans, collectively enjoying creative freedom while sharing limited resources. During these early years, Grayson encountered the Neo Naturists, a group of freewheeling performance artists, whose visual and creative approach would have a profound impact.
Grayson Perry notes, “This show has been such a joy to put together, I am really looking forward to seeing these early works again many of which I have not seen since the eighties. It is as near as I will ever get to meeting myself as a young man, an angrier, priapic me with huge energy but a much smaller wardrobe.”