Philippa Perry, Grayson’s wife, on looking for connections in
the exhibition Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman
On the rare occasions when Grayson and I visit a shopping street together, his favourite place seems to be the charity shops. We go into one together and I look at everything and after about three minutes of finding nothing I long for fresh air and wait for him outside. He takes longer than me, he looks more carefully and comes out after a few more minutes with a rare book or a tweed jacket that somehow I managed to overlook. And when we take his finds back home it is as though we’ve always had them. They seem to have his handwriting on them.
When I saw his final selection from the British Museum this is what struck me. To me, it looked like the objects he chose could have been made by him – they had his personality already. It can be hard to know what he has made and what he has found until you look at the labels. For example, the tiny portable shrine he has chosen (Amulet with plaque, ‘Tsa Tsa’, Tibet 1800-99) reminds me of the one he made for the Tate gift shop in 2009 (Tate Modern Reliquary).
I asked him if ‘Tsa Tsa’ influenced his Tate gift shop reliquary, but no, he found it after he had made the pendant. Both these items are in the exhibition but they are not placed obviously side by side. I like this, it means that we look and let our minds make the connection; it is not done for us. This is not an exhibition to be rushed through. The more you look the more connections you can make.
Grayson won’t necessarily make connections obvious: his pot ‘Grumpy old God’ is based on the Greek vases in the Museum but he has not included one from the Museum’s collection. He asks us in a label not to look too closely for meaning. When he was selecting, he did it intuitively and he invites us to look at his selection in that way. But not looking for meaning does not mean not looking and noticing how things feels for us.
I am reminded of what Alain de Botton once said, which was something like don’t go to Cambrey and look at where Proust lived with your eyes, but stay at home and look around you with Proust’s eyes. If Grayson can pull out this stuff from the collection which seems so resonant of him, his style and his meanings…if objects in the Museum replicates the ages before Grayson made things – stuff that he went on to make before seeing it – then we know that not only Grayson’s psyche is to be found in the British Museum, but all our psyches. We just have to take the time to look and have confidence in our personal reactions to what we see.
And I really mustn’t rush outside when we visit charity shops but stay awhile to see if I too can find myself in an object there.
Find out more about the Grayson Perry Late event.