A couple a weeks ago I passed through the Grayson Perry’s show, The Tomb Of The Unknown Craftsman, at the British Museum and was quietly blown away.
I knew little about this man except that he had notched up a Turner Prize, enjoys dressing up (more Bo Peep than RuPaul) and is a ceramicist. I had never seen his work and was not aware that Perry was loathed by certain critics who maintain a man who makes pots cannot be crowned a great artist. Neither was I in the know about his relationship to his teddy bear, one Alan Measles, the god of his imaginary world.
So, I entered into The Tomb Of The Unknown Craftsman somewhat naive but with an open mind. At the entrance to the show was the extraordinary, customized Kennilworth AM1 motorcycle on which he and Alan Measles had apparently journeyed to Bavaria. Their conciliatory mission was one of peace and friendship. It was intended to lay to rest the duo’s aversion to all things German due to a youth spent immersed in World War 2 comic books – a quest I immediately identified with.
The Rosetta Vase, 2011. © Grayson Perry.
Once inside, it was apparent that a British Museum curator with a bit of vision had allowed Perry free access to their most incredible vaults – 8 million items! For two years he rifled through the archives and selected around 170 objects purely on what touched him. Inspired by what he’d discovered, he then set about creating his own pieces – some of which inevitably feature Alan Measles in various splendid incarnations which sit comfortably alongside each other engaging in a spirited and quirky conversation that criss-crosses the globe and toys with time.
The exhibition is a pilgrimage to generations of people, unknown people, who created and made things. Incredible, fascinating, confusing, mystical, mind boggling things, from Malian fetish objects to magic nails. One wall is graced by a fantastical tapestry map with the British Museum at the heart of it, created by Perry. It’s a journey filtered through Perry’s vision which is informed, intuitive and not lacking in humour. Sometimes it’s hard to know what is his and what’s not – which is definitely consistent with with his playful approach toying with experienced reality, truth and beliefs.
Above: top l: Grayson Perry at work / Top r: A Stonehenge Badge Bottom: A selection of Egyptian Statuettes
By the time I’d reached the final leg of the journey, my head was swimming and the artist’s metaphorical piece de resistance, a cast iron boat embossed with resonant and potent images from the collection and carrying a 250,000year old flint axe head, pretty much sailed silently by. The tired cynic in me was throwing up images of the Time Bandits and so, I took my leave. That said, I may have to return another time especially as I have since gained further insight into the ways of this maverick artist and craftsperson.