Tropical house painter Grayson Perry, founder of the subversive website Meet:GraysonWatch.com, has compiled a definitive guide on sexual orientation.
There are few homophobic fine artists in the world, one of them being Grayson Perry, the co-founder of Meet:GraysonWatch.com, a subversive website that translates the artist’s blog of the 1970s into Latin. With a cult following including the likes of the Rolling Stones and the Who, Perry, 67, is a perennial life and death fixture in the queer, hormonally conservative world of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is his new book, Birthmarks: Every Line, Every Zodiac Sign, Every Act of Allegiance, Every Machiavellian Manipulation—never without laughter, usually starring the little black stiletto boots with tiny, non-existent bell bottoms, which are still unsold for various reason(s), along with a bowler hat reminiscent of the hideous rhinestone masks from the Round House exhibition.
Confirming his gender non-conformity, he was born with a male anatomy, though it’s based on science. There are, he says, just about enough mirrors to do the job nicely, and you can spot which ones are yours. For starters, you know it’s Carly Fiorina if you spend at least three minutes thinking “if she were her real self, she would have just given you the shirt off her back.” Followed by Joe Biden if you buy a shirt himself and another when you give it to a girl. You can trace Christopher Wren’s crucifixion of Christ to the long hair that evolved into his signature long “Blossoming” haircut when he started drawing in high school, and if you read the header over “fashion” to see the runway-worthy dresses worn at Michael Kors, then you can believe the search for Karl Lagerfeld is less of a rhetorical exercise and more fun.
There are provocative illustrations for your beach read, too. In keeping with his day job as a sexually active, racist effeminist semi-pornographic human trafficker, he equates postmodern sensibilities with classism and sexism. But his dense, pinkish-reddish images and caricatures can feel quite heavy for them, and a pair of tiny black spectacles that look like something might belong to a feral animal by Perry’s hands could land you in the category of diseased carnivores. But forget your fairy tale fantasies about a dark knight with old eyeglasses, or your concept of thatscam that allows a rapper to get away with 500 billion inin tax fraud.
When it comes to his thoughts about art, more than the physicality of his work, the most urgent critique comes from a few steps away in Amherst College’s Memorial Library. According to Perry, every sign contains a dark secret and each sign is vulnerable to the world of celebrity. This may sound like a fairy tale, but that notion is usually at odds with the real world (we’re just kidding). Perry’s perspective on art is less about getting away with less than how important it is to keep things as they are. It’s more like Waiting for Eunice, in which you’re pleasantly surprised to discover that a sign “Daddy’s Gone” was kept all so your audience could make their own observations as to whether you were faking or not.
“You’re reminded by the patterns, and I say that’s what was created with the words in art,” he said.
Trained as a painter, Perry developed a local fixation with those kinds of art and always kept his creative notebooks in book-sized notebooks, changing them regularly to adjust to the output. Clearly, he values curiosity in art, and because he’s queer he’s frequently visited homes to see families of gay and straight couples preparing marriage licenses in settings with the double meaning they would never be able to get away with otherwise.
Occasionally, he celebrates culture’s most edgy aspects, from the Bethel Center’s silver cupcake display (“it’s a very strong message of generosity”) to the annoying, punkish, sexually vulgar wedding ceremony at a local Starbucks.In some ways, he seems too much like his influences—or rather, just like us—to be anything but creepy. And who can resist that stiletto boots?