Nick Hackworth

Grayson Perry: Guerrilla, Tactics Barbican

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

In his first major UK retrospective, Grayson Perry, the art world’s favourite transvestite, exhibits a range of his amusing and. occasionally touching pots, textile pieces and photographic works. Since the late Eighties, Perry, who hails proudly from Chelmsford, Essex, has been employing, as he puts it, “guerrilla tactics” within the art world — using the low status aesthetics and forms of various craft disciplines to create fashionable, and to some extent, subversive contemporary art.

His pots are his best-known work. At first glance they look like perfectly normal, colourful ceramics that come in various shapes and sizes from simple, humble pieces to large, bulging, regal-looking affairs with ornate tops and thick, shiny, golden glazes. On closer inspection they are revealed to be crowded with satirical images and snippets of text that play among ornate patterns. A kind of post-modern Hogarth, Perry focuses on the sins of suburbia rather than the vices of the underclass. So we see the private perversions and pretensions of the middle classes, who appear as absurd and cartoonish figures, played out across the surface of the pieces.

The prevalent social satire, however, also flows over into both the more overtly political and the more touchingly personal. Images of childhood, mainly culled from Perry’s own, also crop up on the pots and, married with the depicted erections that pepper his pieces, give the work a strong psychoanalytical flavour. Particularly endearing is Alan Measles, Perry’s real-life childhood teddy-bear, who features prominently, not least due to the erection he is wont to sport. The Gulf War Dinner Service, meanwhile, is a hilarious series of plates with an anti-American Imperialism theme.

Also on show are photographic and video works featuring Claire, Perry’s female alter ego. In The Mother of all Battles, Claire poses proudly with her Kalashnikov and her Central-European style dress carefully embroidered with images of violence. Elsewhere, especially in the video Bungalow Depression, Claire is more of a typical, English suburban housewife, dusting, filing her fingernails and generally going insane.

Despite the hilarity and self-mockery apparent in Perry’s transvestite escapades, they seem, like all his work, to be serious beneath the sarcastic surface. He makes amusing, saleable work but also gets to poke fun at the people who buy it and protest against that which he does not like in this world.

Until 3 November. Information: 020 7638 8891.