I’m of the latter – I know what I like. Even the best artists can do bad work, and if a piece were ugly, its pedigree or provenance wouldn’t much matter to me. I wouldn’t display it where I live. Of course, neither would I be above making a quick buck on it – say, an ugly Andy Warhol (of which examples abound). When it comes to art, monetary value and beauty don’t necessarily go hand in hand.
|Twenty Jackies, Andy Warhol (1964)|
The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung believed that artistic creativity springs from archetypal images, elements of the collective unconscious, and that by giving shape to these images artists show us the way to the deepest part of ourselves. In other words, art at some level is a reflection of us.
Maybe so, but for me, some looking glasses work better than others. For example, I have trouble finding myself in Warhol’s Twenty Jackies, although perhaps I should take a closer look.
Not so, though, with the work of Grayson Perry, a ceramics artist from Great Britain. In 2002, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam mounted a solo exhibition of Perry’s pottery, and I had the pleasure of seeing it.
A gamin (though he was born in 1960) from Chelmsford, Essex, Perry lives and works in London. He’s probably best known for his pots and vases, many of which are intricately glazed in iridescent gold reminiscent of Gustav Klimt’s gold period (think the Kiss or Klimt's first portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer). Using photo-transfer techniques, scraffito drawings, and handwritten or stenciled texts, Perry subverts the extraordinary beauty of his vessels into bait for the cartoon-strip personal and societal commentary that titivates their surfaces. Apparently, the poor guy had a rough childhood and still lives in a deeply faulty world, so his surface graffiti is often pessimistic, pornographic, and even sadomasochistic. At the same time, it seems downright childish and, indeed, is typically out of the mouths of children!
But there’s humor in it, too. Perry has used his ceramics to satirize other art forms, as in Gimmick (1996) which lists artists’ trademark methods, like Jackson Pollock-drips or Alexander Calder-mobiles. Moreover, the cartoon commentary and images of violence create a dissonance that renders Perry’s work not merely beautiful but taut and makes it that much more interesting.
Dolls at Dungeness, Grayson Perry (2001), Internet photo
But upon checking the results in the camera’s LCD monitor, I discovered, well, me reflected in the gold surface of the ceramic like an appended afterthought, detritus amidst the beauty, an extraneous balloon of graffiti distorting the composition.
Detail, Dolls at Dungeness, Stedelijk Museum (2002). In the
background can be seen an abstract reflection of the photo-
Grayson Perry, Stedelijk Museum (2002). A carnival mirror distortion of
the photographer can be seen in the background.
As Perry himself avers, in order to make decent art, you have to at least put in the time.
But that’s the thing about art, isn’t it? No matter how much you put into it, you're never quite sure you’ve got the picture. And if you have, it may be by accident.