Those of you who follow my blog will probably already know that I have a slight obsession with Grayson Perry so I snapped up the chance to go and see a display of the six tapestries that make up his social commentary on class structures in Britain, The Vanity of Small Differences, in Coventry yesterday. I had previously seen the fifth tapestry, The Upper Class at Bay at The Whitworth last year, but had never seen the others in the flesh before, and seeing all six together was amazing!
The six tapestries follow the story of Tim Rakewell as he progresses through the class hierarchy to reach his eventual fame and death, and they heavily borrow from William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress which shows the life of Tom Rakewell. In fact, Perry pays homage to Hogarth by including his dog, Trump, in each tapestry. These tapestries are the result of research carried out in the three part Channel 4 programme All in the Best Possible Taste which is well worth a watch for a bit of added insight into the symbolism in the works.
The Adoration of the Cagefighters
This first tapestry shows Tim as a baby reaching for his mother’s phone as she gets ready for a night out with her friends in their working class living room, whilst the grandmother waits to babysit. (By the way, if anyone can shed any light on what is going on with granny’s leg please please please tell me it’s driving me mad!!) Tim is seen a second time in this tapestry as he waits at the bottom of the stairs as an older child underneath a framed photo of his absent father – this can be read as pretty autobiographical, the father is even on a motorcycle which is pretty significant to Grayson Perry’s own life.
The Agony in the Car Park
Tim appears in this tapestry which shows Sunderland twice again – once with his step-grandfather in the allotments and again cringing as his stepfather sings at a local club. The tale of this tapestry is that Tim’s stepfather is being promoted and the couple waiting at the bottom right are the call centre manager and Mrs Thatcher who are inducting the family into the middle class.
Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close
This tapestry shows Tim as a university student with his middle class girlfriend after some sort of fall out with his parents. Jamie Oliver, who Grayson refers to as ‘the god of social mobility’ watches over the scene as Tim becomes more middle class and enters the world of the dinner party.
The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal
In this tapestry, the newspaper headlines tell of Tim’s financial success as his eco-friendly well dressed family lounge in their upper-middle class home. One of my favourite parts of this image is the self-portrait in the mirror on the wall which is references Jan Van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Marriage.
The Upper Class at Bay
This tapestry shows Tim as the owner of a stately home whilst the aristocrat who he has bought out lies tattered and attacked on the ground with the dogs of fuel bills, social change and upkeep tearing away at him.
The final tapestry shows Tim with his new girlfriend as he lies dead after a car crash and the expensive contents of the car lie strewn across the road. The off-duty nurse who holds him as he dies is wearing the same outfit as his mother was in tapestry one as Tim’s life has come full circle.
I love the narrative that flows through Grayson’s work and the hidden symbols that are present in every tapestry making them all so rich in detail. The exhibition ends this Sunday 3rd July so you haven’t got long to catch it, but I would really recommend it if you have chance. It’s also pretty fun to find Grayson’s signature in each tapestry as it is hidden in each one.