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Turner prize winner, Royal Academician and CBE Grayson Perry (and his alter-ego Claire) is best known for his quirky, politically engaged pottery.


Perry was born in Chelmsford, Essex in 1960 to a working class family. Though he does not describe his childhood as enjoyable, he kindled a love for ceramics and discovered transvestism during this time. His mother did not approve of the latter and after being kicked out of the home Perry decided to pursue becoming an artist.

Perry studied at Braintree College of Further Education from 1978, and received a BA in Fine Art from Portsmouth Polytechnic (now the University of Portsmouth) in 1982.

First Works

Though he took part in the 'New Contemporaries' show at London’s ICA in 1980, Perry had his first solo exhibition of pottery works in 1984. The commercial success of these works and the show led him to focus more on ceramic arts rather than the short films and performance pieces he had been engaging in at the time.


Winning the Turner Prize in 2003 ensured Perry’s celebrity status in both the art world and in the mainstream media. His win was controversial not only because this was the first ceramic work to ever win the award, but because of Perry’s public transvestism. The judge’s verdict took hours longer than usual, but they eventually cited his 'uncompromising engagement with personal and social concerns' as reason for his win. This victory really cemented Perry’s status as a disruptor of mainstream expression and as a key player in the contemporary arts scene.

Most Famous Works

One of Perry’s most famous vases is his 2011 Rosetta Vase, currently held by the British Museum. Originally made as part of an exhibition that Perry himself helped to curate: 'Tomb Of The Unknown Craftsman', this vase is bright yellow, decorated with blue images and text with iconography inspired by objects in the surrounding museum.

Perry also created the monumental Walthamstow Tapestry in 2009, which explores the emotional resonance of brand names in our lives and our relationship to consumerism. 15 by 3 metres, the tapestry can be read left to right and loosely outlines the seven stages of man while hundreds of brand names and buzz words surround these central figures. Currently held in the Netherlands, this work bears particular resonance with British viewers who recognise its references, notably to the suburb of Walthamstow itself, where Perry held a studio for many years.


Perry draws influence from a wide range of sources, particularly when it comes to the iconography on his ceramics, yet his experiences of life in Britain and the social issues that affect the fabric of British society seem to be a recurring theme in his work. An early vase, I Was An Angry Working Class Man, 2001, demonstrates this, with motorbikes, pub signs and a pit-bull terrier all depicting recognisable features of Perry’s Essex upbringing.

Similarly, Perry’s response to Brexit in 2017 saw him create a pair of vases showing the supporters of the leave and remain campaigns respectively. He crowdsourced the imagery and ideas used to decorate the vases through social media channels and tours of the country, gleaning influence from the public’s response to questions such as 'what makes you British?'. Large in size and extremely similar in their decoration, Perry named the set Matching Pair.

Style & Technique

While Perry is known for working across a variety of media, he is best known for his ceramic vases. Classically shaped earthenware reminiscent of Ancient Greek works are turned on their head by Perry’s decoration: where bright colours and contemporary iconography are used to comment on present-day issues or personal experience as well as to modernise one’s interpretation of pottery as a medium.

Indeed, Perry leans into the notion of ceramic work’s secondary status as an artistic form, using it to explore poignant, witty or often difficult themes while still maintaining a recognisable sense of ‘humility’ associated with pottery. In this sense, Perry’s ceramics are what he considers to be a ‘Guerilla Tactic’ for creating art that engages with difficult social issues through what is ostensibly a traditional or non-threatening medium.

Throughout the 1990s, Perry also worked in tapestry and costume, creating works like the  Mother Of All Battles, (1996) which was a traditional women’s folk costume, onto which Perry stitched images of weapons and murder alongside ethnic symbols.

Life & Times

Following his graduation from art school, Perry began taking evening classes while squatting in the Camden area, and during this period of relative poverty Perry’s more serious interest in ceramics formed. He also maintained his interest in transvestism, frequently appearing as his alter ego Claire, whom Perry describes as being a '19th Century reforming matriarch, a middle England protester for 'No More Art,' an aero-model-maker or an Eastern European freedom fighter.' Perry designs many of Claire’s outfits himself and she is also involved in many of his artworks - for example she poses with a gun while modelling Perry’s Mother Of All Battles dress.

Perry now resides in North London with his wife Phillipa, with whom he has a daughter, Florence. He remains heavily invested in social issues and is an active member of the Labour Party. His books ‘Cycle Of Violence,’ ‘Playing To The Gallery’ and his autobiography ‘Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Girl’, have all been largely well received. In 2013 Perry received a CBE for his contributions to British art.

On the Market

The first work sold at auction by Perry was the aptly named I Want To Be An Artist, in 1996 and since then, he has had widespread commercial success. In 2017, one of Perry’s vases sold for over £600,000 at a Christie’s auction, and many of his works are held in major galleries across Europe.

I Want To Be An Artist by Grayson Perry

Image © Christie's / I Want To Be An Artist © Grayson Perry 1996

1. £632,750 for Grayson Perry's I Want To Be An Artist

Establishing his place as a key player in the contemporary art world with these earlier ceramic works, Perry’s acidic yellow vase sold for £632,750 at Christie's London in October 2017, making it the most expensive of his creations.

One of the very first works sold by the artist, the vase is covered with images of famous artists - including the large Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, created via photo-transfer. It is a dedication to Perry’s own favourite artists.

This work sets a precedent for a dissonance between the traditional medium of pottery and contemporary subject matter and decoration. - a contrast Perry consistently employs in his ceramic works. What appears to be a largely bright and cheerful ceramic is made darker when one looks closer and sees the skeleton reminding us of Basquiat's untimely death.

The Guardians by Grayson Perry

Image © Christie's / The Guardians © Grayson Perry 1998

2. £443,250 for Grayson Perry's The Guardians

Dubbed by Perry himself as his most ‘literally autobiographical work,’ The Guardians is a pair of ornamental-looking vases that remain one of the artist’s most personal, touching creations. The ‘guardians’ themselves sit atop these large vases and depict Perry’s mother and step-father, neither of whom he had a particularly easy relationship with.

A reflection on the traumas of his own childhood, the pair sold for £443,250 at Christie’s London on 4th October 2019. Despite the more generic visual nods to classical chinoiserie and christian iconography, particularly with the use of gold, these vases are essentially self-portraits, littered with glimpses of the artist’s life. They are currently held by ceramic collectors Diane and Marc Grainer.

Barbaric Splendour by Grayson Perry

Image © Christie's / Barbaric Splendour © Grayson Perry 2003

3. £224,750 for Grayson Perry's Barbaric Splendour

Included as part of Perry’s Turner Prize Exhibition, Barbaric Splendour takes its name from a phrase from Ernst Gombrich’s A sense of Order. As is to be expected, the vase itself, while decorative at first glance, is a vessel for Perry’s contemporary social commentary. Upon closer inspection, puddles, crowded social housing and a largely sombre palette create the backdrop of a Northern working town, where the figure of the young artist himself stands amongst the scenery.

Sold for £224,750 at Christie’s London on March 6th 2018, this work has gained notoriety since its first exhibition. As always, the conflict between ideas of class and the decorative arts is brought to the fore by the artist’s choice of subject matter. The decorative arts demand our attention, the times where indulgence in the ornate was ‘morally inferior’ are over.

Saint Claire 37 Wanks Across Northern Spain by Grayson Perry

Image © Christie's / Saint Claire 37 Wanks Across Northern Spain © Grayson Perry 2003