Alastair Smart

Trivial pursuits

Offset by a blood-spattered backdrop, this is just one of many startling images from Grayson’s colourful sketchbooks, dating from the 1980s

Well, he’s back. Though you’d be forgiven for thinking he’d never been away. Fresh from delivering the Reith lectures, exhibitions nationwide, various television shows for Channel 4, countless broadsheet interviews, building his ‘dream house’ in Essex and much else besides, Grayson Perry is back.

His latest offering is a book of sketches, selected from across his career. He began drawing as a boy in notebooks his grandmother gave him, filling them with images of racing cars and comic-book characters. It was at art school in Portsmouth in the early 1980s, however, that Perry began sketching in earnest, a practice he kept up when he subsequently moved to London, a lack of money for studio space meaning it was his only artistic outlet.

Suburban housewives in tweed coats appear, as well as Barbie dolls, motorbike racers, crying mummy’s boys, toy soldiers and crucified pin-ups. For those interested in the roots of Perry’s transvestism, gender stereotypes abound; there’s a sense in these early works — fantasy collages all — of the artist desperately trying to work out his sexuality on paper. Perhaps the most striking image is of Perry dressed as Margaret Thatcher, in pink power-suit and matching handbag, his demure facial expression offset by a blood-spattered backdrop.

Perry stopped sketching once his career as a ceramicist took off, only returning to it, for fun, in the late 1990s as a way of passing time with his new daughter Flo. His fondness was reignited, and he says he hasn’t stopped since.

The bulk of the book comprises Perry’s preparatory sketches for his successful works of recent years — such as his tapestry series ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’, which charts the chequered progress of a self-made millionaire through the British class system.

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