Grayson Perry at Arnolfini, Bristol

Since being pointed in his direction through this course, I have really liked Perry and his work.  It’s a refreshing change and is made doubly interesting by the television programmes that he has made that explain the context of the work.  I recently watched Britain Divided, on a plane journey of all places, and was interested in seeing the two pots that he had made in response to the views and opinions of the opposing parties of the Brexit question.  Holly Woodward, another OCA student, wrote a blog post about visiting this exhibition and her reaction to it, and since Bristol is close by it was a golden opportunity to visit and see his works up close.

I went to visit the Arnolfini just before Christmas last year and just in time, as the exhibition closed on the following Sunday.  It was busy with plenty of people circling around the exhibits, reading the information and talking about them.  Again, it was refreshing to be somewhere where it was a mix of ages with children as well as adults, it wasn’t quiet as people discussed the work and the ability to take photos on my phone without feeling like I was stealing something.  The overall impression of the exhibition was of colour – the work was varied in bright colours and the tapestries were huge and full of colour and detail.  The pots are covered in lots of tiny detail and I would have liked some more time to fully go round each one.  Like Holly, I was interested by the gold motifs that adorned most of the pots.  They looked arabic in some way, perhaps religious symbols? They were small but stood out against the backgrounds so attracted my attention.  The pots are about Britain and what people value about it, and yet this “foreign” symbol was on it too so perhaps he was commenting on the wide range of faiths that make Britain unique.

The tapestries were attention grabbing, not least because they often took up most of a wall.  One was a deep red and looked like a map, and it was set on a backdrop of tower blocks.  The places and street names were all ‘buzz words’ that are in current everyday use, and I found this amusing because they are the sort of words and expressions that can irritate me or make me laugh when used all the time.  This piece struck me as being very much of the here and now a comment on society and how we use language.

Grayson Perry, Red Carpet, 2017

It also reminded me of the opening scene from Eastenders with the map of the loop of London and the Thames.  However, it could be anywhere.

The pots are fascinating and full of comments on certain situations.  One was on how those with money can see good causes as being good for the CV or because they are told it is a good thing.


I got the impression that he is poking fun at The Establishment, at set views and things that we believe because we are told to do so.  Is it possible then that we are enjoying the exhibition because he makes it light hearted, almost not serious and therefore more accessible.  The descriptions accompanying the exhibits were all written by him in an easy to read style, and you could almost hear him talking about them.  I believe that this is what makes him popular, it is the accessibility of him and his work made more so by television appearances.  Having said that, I took my husband and he knows only Perry’s name not his work and he enjoyed it even without any prior knowledge.

From a photography point of view, there is a lot going on and shows how images can be used in several ways.  The pots used transfers of personal photographs and other things from advertising, all merged together in telling the story.  There is a lot to look at in all the works on display, there is colour, there is size and there is humour.  The work is clever without being highbrow, accessible with or without any knowledge and I found that to be a positive change from other exhibitions that I have seen.  I often feel disconnected from the work and this is made more so by the atmosphere of galleries.  Art needs to be discussed whatever your opinion and sometimes it doesn’t matter if you miss the meaning as long as you get something from it.  This exhibition made me want to be more creative in the way that I approach my own photography


Seeing Exhibitions

Exhibitions of photography generally don’t come to the south west and so I need to travel to catch big well known exhibitions, something that has not been possible in the past.  Back in February I went to The Radical Eye at Tate Modern in London as well as the Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition at the same place.  I was finishing off my work for Context and Narrative, and it was a welcome change from seeing images in books or on television. Radical Eye had been open for some time and it was fairly quiet so there was plenty of time and space to consider the exhibits there.  Dorothea Lange was on show and having spent some time studying her in previous modules, it was interesting to see the photograph up close.  I also liked the portraits by Irving Penn and Edward Steichen, and the work of Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) and Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971).  All in black and white, there was pathos and beauty in the work that stood out.   Overall though, I felt that I couldn’t really connect with the way that it was presented, low tones and subdued lighting were overwhelming but I understand the reason for the lights in order to preserve the prints.

The Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition was completely different in terms of light, space, framing, hanging and approach.  The first time that I saw it was a few days after it had opened and it was busy with lots of people of all ages packing the rooms.  In contrast to the hushed reverence of The Radical Eye, there was a lot of chatter and conversation as people looked at the exhibits and discussed what they were seeing.  I enjoyed wandering around and looking at the images, from huge prints hanging from bulldog clips to tiny prints apparently blu-tacked onto the wall.   Photography was allowed in these rooms and I snapped some of the ones that appealed to me most with my phone camera, more of an aid to memory than to put on a wall or in an album.  The one below caught my eye because of the striking colours of the orange umbrella against the muddy brown water and bright green lily leaves.  This image was, I would think, a 6×4 print as it was tiny on the huge wall and dwarfed by other images with there was a lot of space around it.

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Leaf for Architects, (2013). Courtesy David Zwirner, New York.

I was interested by the tables of information in the middle rooms with the juxtaposition of printed sheets, sheets torn out of newspapers or printed out, and the almost confusing linkage of the items together.  The ‘fake news’ stuff was really interesting and Tillmans commenting on the human psyche through this made me think more about the theme.

I revisited again last week, just before it closed, and had another look at the work this time without the crowds and noise.  It changed the feel of the exhibition for me as though somehow it is meant to be viewed surrounded by lots of people in order to make it more relevant.  This time, I also read the accompanying booklet which is something I often don’t do as I prefer to look first and think about it afterwards, or get an explanation for something in particular.  I was interested in seeing whether the same images stood out for me as last time, given that I had more time and space to see them and I think that I consciously looked for a couple.  The image of the car below, Fespa Car (2012) was one of the large prints, and I was drawn to it because of the colours – red, yellow, orange – as well as the black of the plastic. There is movement in the background of it and gives more of a sense of where the car is (at an exhibition, in a showroom?).  This time, I was more drawn to the Headlight (2012) but I believe it’s probably because it was referred to in the booklet.  The up close and personal view of the light was predatory, like a large eye watching you, especially with the red paintwork like a warning.

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    Fespa Car (2012) Wolfgang Tillmans
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Headlight (2012) Wolfgang Tillmans

However, I still liked the very large prints of abstract things – the dirt from the printer rollers on exposed paper, the folds of paper, and the sky images at the very end of the exhibition.  The printer ones tied in with the images of his office, and printer in pieces and touches on the production of photographs in that they go from something he sees to something printed on paper, but it can be changed by dirty rollers, incorrect settings and so on.

“What exactly are photographs? That’s a question that preoccupies David Hockney and there are signs that it intrigues Tillmans too. The darkroom equipment and materials can be used to do almost anything.”(  This rings true because I went to the Hockney exhibition in April and was intrigued by his paintings and especially the montages of multiple images of the same thing to make up a whole that can be seen when you stand further away.  Usually I want to get closer to see parts of the whole but in this instance I stood back to get the overall picture before getting really close and seeing what he had captured in each individual one.

So that’s my take on two exhibitions.  I have been fortunate enough to see the David Hockney exhibition at the Tate Britain, Giacometti at Tate Modern, Wolfgang Tillmans twice at Tate Modern, The Radical Eye at Tate Modern and the Pink Floyd “Their Mortal Remains” at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Quite different but all interesting in their own rights.