The exhibition starts in a white room where you are immediately confronted with a large etching by Perry called 'Print for a Politician'. It depicts a medieval settlement during a battle, the battling armies are labeled with things like ‘blacks’, ‘gays’ and ‘conservatives’, this highlights Perry’s interest in class and the way that we all fall into categories. The etchings shows how we are all at war; it is impossible to just be a person without being aligned to a category. As you walk through you find sketches Perry made while planning the tapestries, as well as photographs of the tapestries being woven. On the opposite wall are the eight etching ‘A Rakes Progress’, partitioned off is a smaller room containing the documentaries that Perry made during the research phase of the project. A second white room contains the tapestries. Each one is given a full wall to itself, something I think was very important to allow the tapestries to stand out as individual pieces rather than as a whole. Perry has a very distinctive drawing style that can be seen throughout much of his pottery work, the colours are bright and garish and the figures crude.
Each tapestry contains elements from a different classic religious painting. Perry draws on how the classics underpin all art, Perry uses them to remind us that we use them as a frame of reference without even knowing it. He says, ‘Although this series of images developed very organically, with little consistent method, the religious reference was here from the start.’ The way that the characters are grouped and the name of each tapestry comes from the paintings. For example the first tapestry is called ‘The Adoration of the Cage Fighters’ and contains two cage fighters kneeling on the floor; their poses and positioning suggests that the public are worshiping flesh and material goods in a way that early Christians worshiped Jesus. This contains echos of Andrea Mantegna’s 'The Adoration of the Shepherds'.
Perry’s tapestries follow the life of Tim. He is born in Sunderland, the only son of a young working class single mother; he attends university and starts his own computer company before dying a divorced, millionaire, technology mogul. Perry has inverted the story of Tom Rakewell and made it relevant to today. Perry has Tim move from his working class origins as he follows the path that many people are making today as our society expands with an increasingly large middle class.
Through these tapestries Perry is exploring British taste; how it changes and is influenced by class. He made a series of 3 documentaries for Channel 4 called, ‘all in the best possible taste’ with each episode focusing on a different class and its tastes. Watching these gave me a much wider understanding of the issues Perry is trying to communicate and really placed the work in an appropriate context. Through watching the documentaries it becomes clear that every element depicted in the tapestries is chosen very carefully to reflect what he observed; nothing about them is accidental.
Perry visited the working class of Sunderland, middle classes in Tunbridge Wells and upper class in the Cotswolds. I feel that Perry has done an incredibly good job of representing the people who he spoke with and got to know during his research phrase. However I don’t believe he has really explored the full breadth of the British class system. The tapestries can work as a kind of map to orient viewers in their histories ad futures within our society, we are all stuck in a culture we can’t even see until something like this brings it to our attention. Obviously, it is a very complex system and it would be impossible for everyone to be totally represented, however it is important that everyone can attempt place themselves and I believe that there are three important groups that have been neglected.
For the working class I think it would have been interesting to look at an agricultural working class - the way that a farmer decorates his home and the kind of social life he engages in is worlds apart from that of a working class family in Sunderland. Also, perhaps as a third type of working class - or rather, the Underclass. The terminally unemployed who can’t afford the luxury of a fast car or nail extensions are equally a part of the British class system and would the depiction of their tastes as they struggle to make ends meet would surely be different.
The documentaries stimulated my peers and me to work out where exactly our families would fit. Several people said that they believed there should have been an extra middle class. The ‘new’ middle, or ‘lower’ middle; a group of people whose parents and families were a part of the working class but they now have more money and are becoming a part of the middle class. The taste of these people would be very different from the two middle classes shown in the documentaries - although they are shown briefly in the tapestry entitled ‘Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close’, I think it would have been valuable for Perry to have touched on this middle class more solidly since it is such a class group of people.
Finally, it would have been interesting to explore the immigrant population of Britain and the way their tastes and cultures are becoming a part of British classes and tastes. They may not obviously fit into the traditional British class system, but they are an increasingly large part of our society and I am curious about how they could be acknowledge and represented.
Art can be very elitist. In our society so many people believe that they ‘don’t get art’ and it isn’t for them. As a contemporary artist perry is perhaps one of the most accessible, as a potter he deliberately flirts with class, taste, craft vs fine art, high art and low art, you could say he is a bit cynical about the whole ‘art world edifice’ In the Reith Lectures Perry talks about the way that money and status have become so vital to our appreciation and enjoyment of art, I think Perry is doing a great job at trying to bridge that gap and break away from the closed art circle. The tapestries are bright, visually attractive and exciting, he also included those who are most distant from art in the production and research of the art, maybe enabling them to see the relevance of art to their lives. I hope that these tapestries are displayed all around the country and that people from all walks of life are able to visit them. They hold a message that all tastes are different, and that all are valuable.