Tuesday, 19 June 2012

John Soanes and Grayson Perry – Paintings, Pots, Frocks and Tapestry

One of the hidden treasure places I take visitors with an architectural, artistic or quirky bent is to the wonderful – and free- John Soane’s Museum in Lincolns Inn Field near Holborn.  This house began life as three houses that were almost totally demolished then rebuilt by their owner and architect John Soanes in the 18th Century.  The web-site (http://www.soane.org) tells us that
Soane, born in 1753, was the son of a bricklayer who died in 1837 after a long and distinguished career. He designed this house to live in, but also as a setting for his antiquities and his works of art. After the death of his wife (1815), he lived here alone, constantly adding to and rearranging his collections. Having been deeply disappointed by the conduct of his two sons, one of whom survived him, he determined to establish the house as a museum to which ‘amateurs and students’ should have access.

This museum is a wonderful treasure trove of art, antiquities, and amazing architectural details.  There is even an Egyptian sarcophagus in the basement.  I always wondered how his wife tolerated living in a constant building site where Soanes didn’t just modernise the kitchen or knock down the occasional wall; he moved the staircase, rearranged the floors and ceiling heights, changed the entire roofline and filled the place with huge chunks of ancient Greek and Roman building, all gathering dust and too heavy to move without a crane or several burly men.  He must have been a nightmare to live with - but he has left us the most fabulous legacy.
Inside Sir John Soane’s Museum - imagine having to dust that lot!
Within these walls is an amazing collection of paintings.  One of my favourites is a series of eight paintings by Hogarth called The Rake’s Progress.  Completed in the early 19th century, it tells of the rise and fall in the fortunes of a chap called Tom Rakewell and is a fascinating social commentary of those days**.
Last week I visited the Victoria Miro Gallery near Old Street to see an exhibition featuring tapestries designed by one of my favourite artists, Grayson Perry, who refers to himself as the ‘tranny potter’.  He won the turner prize in 2003 for his very beautiful but disturbing pots and created waves by accepting the award dressed in a beautiful baby doll costume. 
Grayson Perry accepting his Turner Prize
Grayson Perry in his studio
Perry is famous for the large pots which he has been making and decorating for 30 years and it is relatively recently that he has branched out to include tapestry as a medium to express his unique take on life in the modern world.
One of his first is a 15 x 3 metre work called the Walthamstow Tapestry referencing the Bayeaux Tapestry but named after the area in which his studio is situated.
The Walthamstow Tapestry
His current exhibition is a series of six large tapestries exploring taste and class.  He produced three hour long documentaries entitled All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry shown weekly on Channel Four, the last one airing tonight at 10pm.  The first programme explored taste and the working class, the second middle class whilst the third will deal with the upper class.  He visited people in their homes, photographing their special items, attending special events with them and seeking to understand what constitutes good taste within their self-defined classes.  He then designed the tapestries which were woven on huge looms in Belgium.
In the tapestries he referenced The Rake’s Progress, naming his central character Tim Rakewell and also referred to other classical works although the tapestries are a completely modern social commentary - as were Hogarth’s so long ago.  I went with a friend and we spent ages studying the tapestries with their myriad details.  Just as I thought I had seen it all, I would notice another detail exquisitely executed.

Detail from Expulsion from No 8 Eden Close
Grayson Perry pictured in front of his tapestry ‘The Upper class at Bay’
It was a fantastic way of taking a break from my last course work. I have been I was pretty much in despair over it and just about giving up.  Then I checked the marks for my last two pieces of work only to find that I had achieved two firsts.  Prior to this news I had been moaning away to him- at- home that it was all too hard and wanting to hit him when he responded with “but you always say that”.  Now with these marks I can’t really give up so it is time to knuckle down.
Picture sources:
Tapestries at the Victoria Miro: http://thelittlegardenstudio.blogspot.co.uk/  

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