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).

Sydney, for a day

My partner and I caught the bus up to Sydney yesterday, so we could see the Chuck Close: Prints, Process and Collaboration exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The weather was vile. Rainy with strong gusty winds so inside a gallery was just the place to be.

We were a bit stunned, when we arrived, to find out that it was a single entry ticket to the show, so our plans to take a look, retire for a restorative coffee and then re-enter the gallery for a second look were shot. Having decided that caffeine fortification was in order, prior to entry, we went to the 4th floor cafe, with its marvelous terrace with views to the Opera House, only to have to sit inside because yes, it was raining again. I took the opportunity to quickly sketch this sculpture of a ‘child’. When I finally dashed out to get a look at the title and artist’s credit I discovered that the head, turned away from me is that of an extinct and ancient fossil fish!

to be carried away in the current, to be dissolved in the Other, Sangeeta Sandrasegar, 2014, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.  Copic multiliner, 11 December 2014

‘to be carried away in the current, to be dissolved in the Other’, Sangeeta Sandrasegar, 2014, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. Copic multiliner, 11 December 2014

I won’t say much about the exhibition, other than its great if you like Close’s work, as he is happy to not only reveal, but hang on the walls, examples of the processes he uses to make his work. This includes the actual woodblocks etching plates and forms he uses. I love seeing these objects as much as the finished work itself. There was so much to take in so I was thankful that the catalogue does provide lots of close up detail so you can examine the work again in your own time.

Given that we ended up spending less time at the gallery than anticipated we still had some time to expend before we headed back to return bus. My partner suggested finding somewhere to perch ourselves and draw. We walked to the eastern side of Circular Quay and found a bar on the Opera Walk where we had a good view of the Harbour Bridge, albeit from underneath the shelter of the bar’s umbrellas.

The Harbour Bridge from the Opera Walk, Circular Quay, Sydney. 11 December 2014, Copic Multiliner

The Harbour Bridge from the Opera Walk, Circular Quay, Sydney. 11 December 2014, Copic Multiliner

Back on the bus and through the rain to Canberra. I was jolted awake as a brilliant light shone onto my face – the sun had broken through the clouds. I spent the next half hour enjoying the special sunset effects. This is one I tried to capture on my phablet, an impression of the small scraps of cloud catching the last sunlight.

Cloud study, late afternoon, e-drawing (Photoshop Touch), 11 December 2014

Cloud study, late afternoon, e-drawing (Photoshop Touch), 11 December 2014

Also seen in Sydney

I only had one day in Sydney, but when I looked at the program for the Sydney Biennale I knew I had to include a flying visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art, which was one of the Biennale venues.

I had to see in person the work of El Anatsui a Ghanaian born artist who lives and works in Nigeria. I’ve long wanted to see these monumental works that look like textiles but are made of small scraps of metal wired together in large ‘patchwork’ forms.


Afor 2010, aluminium liquor bottle caps and copper wire.


A detail of Afor showing the wiring together of the flattened bottle caps.


Anonymous Creature 2009. El Anatsui says of this work “When I enter my studio I see huge bags of bottle caps. Because each little cap represents an entire bottle of liquor that was consumed, I think about the quantity of drinks that have been consumed in my little community, which is frightening. So consumerism is a part of what I am playing around with.”