‘Being non-triumphal is central to my work. This is one of the things that draws me to vases, which are usually small-scale. They have a humility: they whisper rather than shout'
- Grayson Perry (G. Perry quoted in J. Klein, Grayson Perry, Victoria Miro Gallery, 2010, p. 140)
‘What captivates Perry, ultimately, about both ornamental and folk pottery is the essential individualism he finds expressed in such work – an individualism premised, most significantly, on its handcrafted qualities. His love for the handmade connects fundamentally to his belief that craftsmanship is not just about perfecting a particular technique, but is to do with the articulation of the deep emotional and organic relationship that a craftsman develops with his medium – often over a lifetime of creative experimentation’.
- Jacky Klein (J. Klein, Grayson Perry, Victoria Miro Gallery, 2010, p. 229)
Exhibited as part of his 2003 Turner Prize winning exhibition, Grayson Perry’s Golden Ghosts, 2000, embodies the artist’s complex and vibrant inner landscape, manifested in the present work through the medley of colour and interwoven imagery. Set against a pale, creamy glaze, Perry has decorated the vase with the children of a bygone era, outlined in sparse, elegant lines. Floating throughout are the shadows of ethereal and otherworldly figures, the titular Golden Ghosts. Through disparate imagery, Perry’s complex surfaces chronicle his own past, his female alter-ego, sociological concerns and current political issues: ‘A modern day Hogarth, he to manages to simultaneously love and loath his subjects, to empathize with his various characters and yet remain at a distance from them’ (J. Klein, Grayson Perry, London, 2009, p. 41). In doing so, Perry challenges pottery’s status as a purely decorative and utilitarian craft, transforming his vases into vehicles for cultural and psychological enquiry.
It was his ceramic vases that first brought Perry to public prominence as a member of the so-called Young British Artist generation, and he was the first ceramic artist to win the Turner Prize. Following the success of his first major solo exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, in 2002, these works propelled him onto a new global stage. Perry has described himself as a ‘maximalist’, an aesthetic reinforced both in his decorative surfaces as well as his ceramic process itself (G. Perry quoted in J. Klein, Grayson Perry, London, 2009, p. 42). Though created using traditional coiling methods, the vases virtuosic surfaces deploy a complex variety of additional techniques – from glazing and embossing to incision, relief and photographic transfers – which frequently require several firings. Referencing Greek pottery and folk art traditions, the classical forms of his vases are held in tension with their piercing contemporary narratives. In Golden Ghosts, this is exemplified through the intersecting and fluctuating temporalities, a kaleidoscope of ghostly narratives.