Man at His Best

What I've Learned: Grayson Perry

Potter and cross-dresser Grayson Perry shares his wit and wisdom.

BY Ben Mitchell | Nov 4, 2016 | Arts

There's an illusion about happiness that it is ecstasy. It's really the regular stuff—like having a nice place to work, walking the dog, a reasonable amount of beer—that makes most people happy. It's not swimming with dolphins or paragliding.

I've got an angle on most things. Dressing up in women's clothes. The Turner Prize. The relationship of pottery to art. They're bits of ground that I've trodden into a quagmire.

There are two metrics that artists use: price at auction and visitor figures. I'm quite interested in both.

I grew up in Essex. My dad was a skilled electrical engineer. My mother was angry. That was her job, I think. She slaved her guts out for my stepfather. I didn't have a good relationship with any of them. My father left when I was four because my mother had an affair with the milkman, who turned into my stepfather. He was a violent thug. My mother was quite disturbed herself and incredibly volatile.

If I really want to have a good laugh I'll watch You've Been Framed!. Fucking brilliant. Harry Hill just transformed it.

My man wardrobe is like many men's wardrobes. It's what my wife buys me plus kit. Motorcycling kit. Sports kit. Work kit. You know, functional clothes.

I want to be one of those old ladies that does not give a shit. They're good. No fear of honesty.

All drugs have a character that they impose on you. It's Mr Cokey Man and Mr Stoney Man! We all know what those people are like, don't we? I haven't taken any illegal drugs for decades. I'm Mr Occasional Pint-y man. I am known to doodle when I'm two or three pints in. It's quite useful to have a disinhibitor, but not to be paralytic.

I wear Chanel Bleu. I haven't got a really good sense of smell but people always compliment me on it so it must be OK.

I used to love dancing. There was a point where I would have gone for Strictly but I think I'm too old now. My body's a bit crook.

People often think that if you're a transvestite then you have some unique insight into women. Bollocks. You've got a unique insight into being a man who likes putting on dresses.

Artists don't live on some weird, ethereal other planet. It's nine to five. You've got to get stuff done.

I'm married to a psychotherapist. You learn quite a lot being married to a psychotherapist.

If you don't like cycling uphill then you don't like cycling. I used to be much more attached to the ups than the downs, but recently I've started to get more excited by the downs. My wife once asked someone who I go riding with, "What's he like when he's out on his mountain bike?" He said, "Well, you wouldn't know he had a family."

Most encounters I have, I start aggressive and then I warm up. I find that's the best trajectory because you don't make that mistake of being overfamiliar with someone who turns out to be a twat.

There have been very brief periods in my adult life when I've had short hair but this particular cut is normally quite a precise bob.

I reach more people with one television programme than I would with 10 exhibitions. I remember once I said to the commissioning editor of one of our programmes, "Oh yeah, that exhibition went really well—120,000 people went to it." She said, "I'd get the sack if those were my viewing figures."

Do I believe in God? No. Life is meaningless. I'm happy with that, though. Most creative people's job is to make meaning. That's the role, isn't it? To give people something to attach to somehow, to give a bit of traction in the abstract soup of being around.

If you're unhappy and you've got things that aren't working for you then talk to someone who might help you. Most people get therapy when they're in their thirties; that's when things come home to roost. I started it when I was 38, so quite late really. I was angry. Depressed. I had many bad habits that my wife loved pointing out to me, all the classic ones: projection, transference, bad communication skills. I went for six years.

Like most middle-class people in Islington we have a cleaner. Our house is not a testament to tidiness

At school I was quite natural at athletics but my stepfather encouraged it so therefore I had to give it up as a "Fuck you" to him.

I find more interest in the British Museum than I do in the Tate.

Everything has its role in the shaping of your life. It would probably have been quite handy to have been less self-conscious when I was younger. I wasn't particularly shy but you don't know how good you are. I've got a better idea now.

I was pretty serious about joining the Army; I was being interviewed for Sandhurst when I was 16. I was in the cadets. Riding on tanks and running around in the dark pretending to be soldiers, we did all that a lot. It was fun. Naively, I didn't associate it with the chaos and horror of war. I'd have been a bad fit for the Army. I probably would have gone on the rampage.

After something appears novel it begins that journey to cliché quite rapidly. Such as? Anything with the word "hipster" in front of it. Tattoos are the classic one. They're cruel because they stick around. It's like having bell bottoms welded to your legs.

I have a daughter. She's 24 now. I was very wary of myself as a parent at the beginning because I had such a lot of baggage. It's easy to be a bad parent. If you do it properly—you pay the kid attention and give love and time and effort—then it's hard.

The gym is awful. I can't bear swimming in a pool either. It's like, the world's out there!

The first question I was asked when I won the Turner Prize was, "Are you a serious artist or are you a loveable character?" I said, "Both." If you're going to spend all your working hours doing something you've got to be serious about it but there is no territory that I won't joke about.

You're allowed to be wrong. You're allowed to be flexible. You're allowed to not know.

A friend of mine once said, "Perfectionism is unloveable." I think that's true. Very often we like things because they are flawed or not quite right.

I'm on a constantly improving curve. I'm realising in my later life that it's nice being nice.


From: Esquire UK