Words and images by Shai Chishty, MA Photojournalism & Documentary Photography, LCC

When I received the invite to meet Grayson Perry and have a tour of his studio, I literally shrieked with excitement. Like many others, I’ve always looked to Perry as some kind of superhero for the arts; the refreshingly loud outsider voice telling it like it is, shaking things up just by being there.

So, on an otherwise drab and drizzly week, a bunch of UAL students from all colleges made our way to a quiet and lovely part of Islington. After a warm welcome by Perry and his assistant, drinks and nibbles in hand, we were given free rein to explore the place where the magic happens.

Perry has been based here for the last four years and calls it his ‘last studio’. After years of moving around, it’s the place he now calls his permanent home; a far cry from the cold kitchen table in the squat he began in.

Looking around, I couldn’t help but notice all the interesting things in every room. An eclectic mix of old works, books and gifts sent in from fans. There were lovely drawings pinned to the wall, sent in from children at the local school. There was even a piece of art I’m told was made wholly of the artists own hair- I was afraid to ask which hair exactly- but thought how lovely that the piece had made it on a shelf in The Grayson Perry’s studio!

 

The amateur psychologist in me was analysing all the pockets of interestingness lying around, all a sign of the inner workings of a fascinating man. You can see quite clearly how involved Perry is in the local area which is a nice touch and a crucial part in making the arts accessible, in my opinion. Later when Perry told us he draws inspiration from ‘life and people walking by my window’ I could see that manifest inside the studio as we spoke.

For those wanting advice on how to be an artist…

  • Work as you want to- with people or alone, during the day or at night, in silence or with music. The beauty of being an artist is that you call the shots and work as you feel. Perry told us that he likes to work during the standard working hours with the radio playing
  • When deciding to move forward with a project, his initial thoughts are what the everyday will look like working on it, that’s what dictates his decision. If it means hiding away every day for the next five years, working alone in the studio, that wouldn’t interest him now
  • Top tip, record your work in an inventory from day one, include dimensions, how you made it, where it is as you never know when somebody might be interested in it
  • Take risks, practice and don’t be afraid to learn on the job

On inspiration and being stuck in a rut…

  • His biggest inspiration at the moment comes from everyday life- anthropology, sociology and he likes to make the everyday exotic
  • If he gets stuck in a rut, he finds a flow simply in doing. He advises to just get going doing, doodling, revising old work, anything as getting started is the hardest part

And about Perry himself…

  • His favourite thing in his studio is his Harley Davidson motorbike, it is his ‘fantasy of masculinity’. He also loves his dress collection which is also stored away there.
  • Perry talked about how every project begins with joy but that the reality of the pressure of any project, when it becomes concrete, bring the joy crashing down- until of course you have finished. When pushed he said he really enjoyed making Our Mother and Our Father because he was able to get into a flow, working with iron he knew exactly what to do and how to do it
  • Perry’s favourite place to show work is the Serpentine Gallery because it is free and accessible. It is also the perfect size to show his smaller works. He recalled hoping as a student to show his work there some day and then his elation at finally realising that dream
  • About the current trend of ‘political art’, Perry told us he is obviously interested in politics but that ‘I’m an artist not a politician!’ so more than anything, the work needs be good
  • Advice he’d give to his younger self, ‘enjoy being young, enjoy your physical body and most of all, be more confident’
  • Perry is currently working on a stage show which will be coming out in the autumn

Of course, no meeting with Grayson Perry goes without some discussion about Claire. He described Claire not as his alter ego as most commentators note, but just a reference to ‘me in a dress’. It must be so boring for him to speak about the same subject over and over again, yet as the questions about his dresses and his make-up preferences poured in, he graciously answered them. He even showed the group some amazing outfits CSM students had designed for him to wear.

Before the talk ended, Perry surprised us with a little raffle give away. There were three unique and fun prizes on offer. I’m sad to say I wasn’t one of winners (bah humbug), here’s one of the gang looking pleased with herself for picking a lucky ticket.

 

All in all, a brilliant afternoon spent learning more about the phenomenon that is Grayson Perry. He certainly didn’t disappoint.

Oh, and for those of you wondering about the loo- don’t worry, I’ve got you covered, it was as interesting as the rest of the place!