Artist Grayson Perry in conversation with Valerie Sinason

Photo: James Royall

Listen to the conversation

Listen to the Q&A session

Venue: Assembly Hall, Islington Town Hall, Upper Street, London, N1 2UD

Date: Sunday 27 June 2010

Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry talked to psychoanalyst Valerie Sinason about the challenging and often dark themes conveyed by his decorative, colourful works. They explored Perry’s use of his own identity in his art, and the way his early life shaped his creativity.

Grayson Perry is best known for his seductively beautiful ceramic vases which, at a distance, seem classically decorative but on closer inspection reveal narratives on aesthetic, cultural, social and political subjects. As well as his signature ceramics has worked in a variety of media including embroidery, film, photography, tapestry, etching and cast metal. He has exhibited regularly and increasingly internationally for 27 years. Perry is also Britain’s second most famous transvestite – he accepted the 2003 Turner Prize as his alter ego Claire, wearing a purple satin party frock. His autobiography, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl, co-authored with Wendy Jones, was published in 2006. He often appears on TV, radio and in the newspapers commenting on cultural issues and had a weekly arts column in The Times for two years.

Valerie Sinason is a poet, child psychotherapist and adult psychoanalyst specialising in trauma and disability. Her most recent edited works are Attachment, Trauma and Multiplicity; working with dissociative identity disorder and poetry book Night-shift. She is Director of the Clinic for Dissociative Studies, Honorary Consultant Psychotherapist of the Cape Town Child Guidance Clinic and President of the Institute for Psychotherapy and Disability.




'I wanted to sound like a streetwise Dalai Lama'

Thursday 8th July, 2010 | Posted by Helena Rampley

What is the reality behind the cult of an artist’s personality? On Sunday evening in Islington Town Hall, Grayson Perry and Valerie Sinason explored the creation of creative personae and the increasingly indistinct separation of artist and art.

Sinason prompted discussion about the unconscious of the art world: do its inhabitants long for recognition, or is it enough to be personally satisfied by one’s art? In response, Perry identified a confusion of the concept of wanting to make art with that of wanting to be an artist. Although he is widely recognised for his transvesite alter-ego Claire, he still retains a genuine integrity in his artistic production. Aspects of his life may be perceived as wild, but these do not form the essence that makes him an artist.

‘A lot of artists think that their fucked-up-ness is their creativity...For me therapy was like someone had tidied up my tool shed’.

Perry was frank about his experience of therapy, and the clarity of mind with which it provided him. He makes no claims to the privacy or sanctity of his working process, and did not apprehend that therapy would demystify the profundity of his creative method.

Conversation moved to Perry’s dress-wearing, and to Butlerian concepts of gender development. Sinason cleverly synthesised traditional stereotypes towards both women and pottery to identify Perry’s attraction to their second class status. He staunchly retains a disregard for artistic movements and categorisation, in relation to both art and gender. As such, the wearing of a dress enables him to access what he remains otherwise restricted from, and to rebuff the glib classifications of society: instinct is important and should not be repressed. The dress of a girl marks an unlikely form of self-acceptance, and a recognition that laughter is not something to be afraid of.

‘I wonder what this perfect, utopian, non-gendered world would be like. It might be a bit drab’.

Perry is poignant and playful by turns, and always honest. However, despite this openness, there still remains a teasing ambiguity – so much so, that when he says ‘I’m working up to building a temple. I just haven’t got there yet’, we have no idea whether to believe him.