My Pretty Little Art Career

This is a ‘drawing the exhibition’ post but between my title and that of Grayson Perry’s exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney I thought you might lose interest before you even started.

We went to see My Pretty Little Art Career on the day it opened. This is the largest retrospective of Perry’s work which has been seen to date and it doesn’t disappoint. If Perry is unfamiliar to you then it’s probably easier to let him introduce himself. anybody can enjoy art and anybody can have a life in the arts – even me! For even I, an Essex transvestite potter, have been let in by the artworld mafia.”

Perry has a broad career spanning his initial work making ceramics and sculptural works up to his recent appearances on television where he has produced machine-woven ‘tapestries’ based on the English class system, and a series on the contemporary portrait. If you are a fan of the shows then the pieces you see on the TV are all here, as well as more recent works.

Map of truths

detail, Map of Truths and Beliefs, 2011, tapestry, 290 x 690 cm

What I really wanted to see are the pots that Perry makes. Subversive and sometimes shocking in their explicit language and images, they transcend the stereotype of a ‘decorative’ pottery and are a deliciously pointed response to people who look askance at the ‘minor’ arts. (Apologies for all the quotes, but this is a man / transvestite who likes to demolish art world stereotypes).

Precious Boys

detail, Precious Boys, glazed ceramic 53 x 53 cms

I was thrilled to see one of my all-time favourites,  Dolls at Dungerness in the room. There is also a place where you can watch a time-lapse sequence of Perry hand building and decorating a number of these pots. I liked that he had a small sign sitting next to his wheel reminding him to turn the camera on.

I was disappointed that there were no places to sit in the early rooms of Perry’s work, because I had to skip drawing those pots so artfully arranged in their individual display cases. There wasn’t enough room to move other than to circle around each cabinet to read all the details incised or printed on the pot’s surfaces.

The one place you can get a seat is in the large tapestry rooms. One of these rooms included a very large pot called What’s Not to Like, on which Perry’s teddy, Alan Measles, glazed in gold, surmounts a pot covered with a plethora of desirable consumer goods.

What's not

What’s Not to Like, glazed ceramic, 2007, pot 0 x 60 x 90 cms , lid 40 x 40 x 62 cms. My sketch Koh-i-noor Magic pencil on Leuchtturm 1917 Whitelines Link book

As always I really enjoy seeing an artist’s sketchbooks and process displayed. Perry’s notebooks were fascinating to look at. Here’s just one page.


Sketchbook, Grayson Perry

Perry says of his sketchbooks that “Drawing in my sketchbook is an almost daily activity …. When I put an idea down I take it very seriously. I don’t waste ideas and there will come a point when I will make a work from the drawing. I have a backlog of categories of objects I want to make.” I look at my own practice and think about this statement. I have many sketchbooks and rarely re-visit them. How many of my ideas are going to waste? All guilty parties please raise their hand.

Perry’s teddy, Alan Measles and his alter-ego Claire appear in many works. I was particularly taken by these two small sculptures.

Alan Gold

Prehistoric Gold Pubic Alan Dogu, 2007, glazed ceramic, two parts; left 12.5 x 10.5 x 5.5 cm and; right 12.8 x 10 x4 .8 cm

And just because I can here is the X-92 that Claire has been photographed with.


X-92, glazed ceramic, 1999, 84 x 58 x 18 cms

This exhibition is highly recommended as is the accompanying catalog . (Rest assured I’ve given up rote buying of exhibition catalogs).

If you would like to read some other views of the exhibition I can recommend Paint Later’s post. If you want to read some more you can read Jacky Klein’s 2009 monograph Grayson Perry, (Thames and Hudson).


  1. Leonie. thank you for your in depth review; it made Perry’s work more fleshed out, as it were. Yesterday’s SMH had a John McDonald review too.



    1. Yes I read as well. I thought you made some good observations about Perry’s position vis a vis his position in the art world now, it’s rather more difficult to rail against the society buying your work. I also find the ‘tapestries’ a bit problematic. I call them jacquard weaves and it’s then it’s easier to respond to the design. I thought they came across much better than the Chuck Close ‘tapestries’. Perry’s are more lively, more interesting in pattern and texture than Close’s.



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