A SERIES of monumental tapestries by one of Britain’s best loved and most important artists, Grayson Perry, will be exhibited at Salisbury Cathedral for three months from 29th June until 25th September.
The Vanity of Small Differences, six “cartoons” exploring class mobility, each measure two by four metres, and were inspired by William Hogarth’s famous 18th century drawings, The Rake’s Progress.
The tapestries chart a stage in the ‘class journey’ made by young Tim Rakewell (a wry reference to Tom Rakewell, Hogarth’s protagonist) and include many of the characters, incidents and objects Grayson Perry encountered on journeys through Sunderland, Tunbridge Wells and The Cotswolds when filming a series for Channel 4.
Cleverly and unflinchingly, Perry exposes layers of unconscious tastes or biases in the scenes and individuals he portrays. References to classical art and religious painting also inform the work, bringing, in some cases, a reverence to an otherwise mundane scene or adding an extra layer of meaning.
The tapestries have toured extensively over the last few years, but this is the first time that they will have been seen in an ecclesiastical setting, which opens up a great opportunity for the Cathedral to create a dialogue around the subject matter.
Tapestry is one of the oldest forms of woven textile and became popular in Europe during the 14th century, when it was used to decorate both private and public spaces. It is an artform the Cathedral’s early custodians would have been familiar with and was employed to bring religious stories to life and depict historical events. Tapestries also performed the very practical role of insulating drafty medieval spaces.
The Very Rev Nicholas Papadopulos, Dean of Salisbury, says: “Perry’s subject in this sequence is social class, and the myriad ways in which not only economic factors but also habits and tastes differentiate human beings one from another. This can be challenging.
“Perry asks us to see ourselves as others may see us, and he also asks us to acknowledge the ways in which we judge others. This, I believe, is worthy of exploration in a Cathedral context. Self-questioning and self-reflection are vital disciplines in the life of faith, just as welcoming and honouring people from every walk of life is part of our vocation as a place of prayer and worship and as a place which is visited by thousands.”
Grayson Perry says: “The work has travelled all around the country and the world – and now to Salisbury Cathedral, for this first showing in a religious space. It was conceived as a public artwork, and I wanted to see them shared with very wide and varied audiences. My hope remains that for those visiting the exhibition in Salisbury Cathedral, it not only delights the eye and engages visitors, but also sparks debate about class, taste and British society.”
Pictured: Two of the Grayson Perry tapestries that will be on show at Salisbury Cathedral: The Agony in the Car Park and The Upper Class at Bay.