If you missed Grayson Perry’s recent three-part Channel 4 series ‘All in the Best Possible Taste’, you missed a treat- something you’ve probably already been told several times by a variety of websites, newspapers and random people on the bus. It’s certainly been a big hit.
Grayson is perhaps most recognisable as his flamboyantly-dressed female alter-ego Claire, in whose guise he was awarded the 2003 Turner Prize for his work as a potter. But as well as all that, he’s a thoughtful curator, public speaker, writer and now anthropologist (although as his 2011 exhibition at the British Museum showed, class and British social mores have been a theme in his work for some time).
He even wrote a column for The Sun recently, a pretty remarkable activity for a serious artist of his stature – especially one who in his more outlandish moments would probably find it tricky to walk past a building site of men reading said paper without attracting incident.
The three programmes in this series were divided up into cultural explorations of the ‘traditional’ three social classes – working, middle, and upper. In the hands of a less likeable (and more po-faced) presenter, it might have been easy to be affronted by its scrutiny of our peccadilloes and social aspirations, because we were all represented somewhere.
No matter what class you feel you fit into, it was hard not to squirm slightly as Grayson put all of our lifestyle choices under the microscope by visiting a cross-section of people, whom he interviewed and joined as they went about their daily lives. Some were living in a bizarre Stepford Wives type community in Kent, or slathering themselves in orange fake tan before they went out on the town in the North East. But of course, Grayson went as far as getting the fake tan done too, as well as dressing up in a frock and shoes chosen by his interviewees.
He really isn’t your average presenter.
One thing the programmes did very effectively was to show that a lot of what we think are purchases based on our own personal tastes, or our ‘eye’ for quality or quirkiness, are actually driven- much more cynically- by our desire to fit into the class bracket we occupy. For those of us who thought we were being individual, it’s an uncomfortable realisation, and Grayson even goes as far as to argue that certain sartorial and decorative decisions are not just a device for us to fit in with our friends, but to outdo them, a concept he calls ‘the vanity of small differences’.
Or what I call ‘Hyacinth Bucket Syndrome’.
Writing as someone who fits firmly into the middle-class bracket (whether I like it or not) I am now completely paranoid about buying anything ever again and have already binned my entire Le Creuset collection. Well okay, maybe not, but it’s hard to have the things you surround yourself with held up to such close observation, even if it’s through a lens Grayson is equally happy to apply to himself ‘as a fully paid up member of the chattering classes’.
This self-awareness makes Grayson such a compelling and warm interviewer that he easily finds common ground with his subjects, no matter how far removed their circumstances are from his own. The product of all of his analysis – after all, he is an artist- was to produce a set of tapestries based on his experiences making the programme.
On paper of course, this all sounds incredibly up itself- a bit ‘Le Creuset’, if you will- but the tapestries are sprawling and vibrant things, and all of his subjects were delighted to appear in them no matter how sympathetically or otherwise their lives might have been portrayed, something which is really left up to the viewer to decide.
It’s so refreshing to see art and documentary being merged in such an accessible way that you have to wonder why nobody gave Grayson a telly gig years ago. Happily, he’s just signed a new two-year deal with Channel 4 so we can look forward to seeing much more of him on the goggle box, but those looking for pretention or artistic offensiveness will have to look elsewhere.
Now, where’s the latest Boden catalogue? I’ve a dinner party to get kitted out for.
If you did miss AITBPT (as we’ve decided to call it), you can catch up on 4OD here