Grayson Perry in conversation with Valerie Sinason

[Image: The Agony in the Car Park, Grayson Perry, 2012]


Sitting in the packed Yorkshire Museum’s Tempest Anderson Hall, I was amidst a hub of excitement that I would say was much like seeing a concert. Every so often the side door would open as staff whizzed about revealing a flash of Grayson Perry – the Willy Wonka of the art world, and all of us there had a golden ticket. When he entered with Valerie Sinason and an entourage following closely, silence fell. That is, until his introduction, which was followed by thunderous applause.

Valerie Sinason began by congratulating York on getting Grayson Perry to do Museums At Night here, to which Perry quipped “I don’t hate the north THAT much.” The conversation quickly turned to the main topic of Grayson Perry’s relationship to his teddy bear Alan Measles. Perry admitted he was uneasy about bringing him due to him being the only surviving relic of his childhood, but he gets more confident about it every outing. He even admitted Alan Measles was too precious to lend to the British Museum for his exhibition Tomb of The Unknown Craftsman and that a “stunt-double” was used. This was also the case in the main hall of the Yorkshire Museum, where an Alan Measles shrine was placed, and a stunt-double sat upon the throne. This did fool many people as little later a friend mentioned Alan sitting upon his throne, whom I corrected as the real deal had been sat on Grayson Perry’s knee throughout the talk.

Perry and Sinason conversed about teddy bears as transitional objects and how they not only represent our parents and how we feel about them, but must exist in their own right to fulfil the needs we have from a transitional object. Sinason also likened this to the function of a god, such as Alan Measles plays for Perry – silent but ever-present. Perry went on to say how he often felt his work relating to Alan Measles was silly at the time, but only looking at it in retrospect can he now appreciate it. Alan was also an approver of Perry’s ideas and as a child Alan would commission him to build various structures out of Lego.

Sinason and Perry then began the topic of ‘play’ and how playful Perry’s work can be. He felt he clung onto the ability to lose himself in play up to the age of 15 with the help of Alan Measles and that play is often seen as degrading, though less so in the arts. He then looks into the audience and address the art students and emerging artists to say “take yourself more seriously in play” and asks us to play more and never throw an idea away just because we may view it as silly now.

Of course the chance could not be passed upon to mention his transvestitism, and Perry himself has agreed that he does not exactly blend into the woodwork when he is dressed as Claire. He did admit that he enjoys the anonymity that it brings him when he is not in the elaborate outfits he often appears in for events such as this. However this acts as a double-edged sword as he is now no longer “that bloke in the wonky wig wandering round the shopping centre”.

In the final 10 minutes the audience were allowed to address questions to Perry, to which he quickly added, “as long as it is not – what is my favourite colour?”

One lady asked if she could give Alan Measles a letter she had written for him. Perry answered with “Yes but he can’t read!” He was asked what will happen to Alan when he dies and he replied that he does not know and isn’t particularly concerned by the thought. The final audience comment came from a woman who told Perry that just as Alan Measles has been a beacon of hope to him, his art has given hope to people like her. That on their darkest day, they can find solace in his work. Perry told her that he was very gratified and humbled to hear it.

The parting comment from Valerie Sinason was to thank Grayson Perry the child for keeping and preserving the fantastic Alan Measles. The entire event reflected Perry’s style by engaging all visitors in play, to some this could have looked to be aimed at children. If one stepped back and was able to view the spectacle through different eyes you could see that York is not as conservative when it comes to art as some may believe. It was a pure delight to see visitors of all ages proudly carrying their teddy bears in their arms.

Grayson Perry’s tapestries The Vanity of Small Differences will be on tour to Temple Newsam in Leeds from 23rd August until 7th December 2014.

Ryan Thompson

Filed under: Art & Photography