“I have to do it badly in the right way”

Grayson’s advice to any aspiring artist?  “Don’t do a brown semi-abstract landscape”.
Grayson Perry
I never worried about being original. Originality is for people with short memories.

Don’t you just love Grayson Perry CBE RA, the Artist and Coordinator of this year’s Royal Academy 250th Summer Exhibition in London, and his “man-in-a-dress” persona – Claire?

He gets to check ALL of the boxes on my artist aptitude questionnaire, and then some.  A self-avowed transvestite from a very early age, he survived a rough childhood fraught with abandonment and abuse, excelled in school until his early teens and finally ‘came out’ while attending art school. He also squatted in London for four years, which, I am sure, coloured his world view.

bright coloursLuckily for us, these life challenges, plus six years of psychotherapy, a healthy marriage and a child, produced this upbeat and beloved British artist with a passion for life and a penchant for “naff” clothing.

Scooping the Chapman brothers for the ‘career-changer’ Turner Prize in 2013 set the stage for Grayson to eventually take on the Royal Academy’s prestigious 250th Summer Exhibition. In Grayson’s introductory essay featured in the illustrated 2018 publication, he overtly says what many of us do about the art world, but only if we are safely out of earshot and perhaps locked in a soundproof toilet.

Magda Archer, Please Don't Talk to Me About Art, Acrylic-1
Magda Archer, Please Don’t Talk to Me About Art, Acrylic

With lobs of wit, irreverence and lots of empathy, readers get a taste of  the artistic pretensions and preciousness regularly associated with this sort of affair. Then, without missing a beat, Grayson zips, head-long, into what art is truly about – the joy of playing with colour, embracing the hysterical, the stupid, the painful … and the wonderful. (Viewers beware: percentages may vary.)

And yet, even though Mr. Perry, as he says, is a-man-in-a-dress, this may be where our tracks separate. Even buoyed by an instinctual expectation that a character as obviously unique and gender-nuanced as the colourful Grayson may be… will he fail me?

How, you ask? For many women, right before entering any gallery or museum, there is always that “Me Too” moment, where our cultural opportunities feel tied to or enabled by the nod of an art world ‘Weinstein” type.  Art history regularly ignores the glaring absence of half the world’s population; this is possibly due to the absence of an extra ‘x’ chromosome, which has so far proven justification enough to ‘invisible-ize’ us.

Emma Stibbon RA - Loto, Guns, Ammo Intaglio
Emma Stibbon RA – Loto, Guns, Ammo,  Intaglio

So for me, the numbers game is not some whiney, hard-done-by, menopausal female rant. This problem is real and pervasive, and I, in hardcore protest, am a regular ‘counter’ and a ‘mention-er to the management’ sort of girl.

To support this claim, two very recent examples popped up very recent examples glaring examples. Almost to the day of the RA’s 250th Exhibition opening, came the news of the prestigious BelgianArtPrize’s shortlist of five candidates in competition for the 2019 edition of the prize. And they were? You got it – five white males. I stood and cheered at the unexpected magnitude of the uproar from such a progressive country. The prize has now been shelved for the year. (I can’t wait for next year!)

Secondly, the Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (1615-17) by Artemisia Gentileschi has become the first artwork by a female artist to enter the permanent collection of the National Gallery in London in 27 years. Shall we ignore the fact that one percent of the National Gallery’s 2,300 artworks were made women?


Row 1: Marina Abramovic, Freeing the Body, Silver gelatin prints. Jess Wilson, Light Switch (Two); Yinka Shonibare MBE RA, Young Academician, Mixed Media; Row 2: Angela O’Connell, Spaghetti Girls, Acrylic; Fiona Banner RA, Self Portrait as a Book, and Prof Cathie Pilkington RA, Lovely Eyes, Mixed media

So with this news flooding the headlines, I found the fresh new copy of the RA’s artist index on the coffee table, so I readied my well-practiced growl and sharpened a claw.


I ‘cunted’.  An unexpected wave of ‘counters fatigue’ soon overtook me. There were over 90 women artists listed in the  A to C alphabetical listing alone! Even that number, out of almost twenty thousand entries, was more representation than I would have thought possible. My issue suddenly felt like warm sunscreen on a sunny day. This was more fairness than any girl can take before morning coffee.


Milena ZeVu, Artwalks 139 Belgrade, Giclée Print-1
Milena ZeVu, Artwalks 139 Belgrade, Giclée

Acceptance into Grayson’s Make Art Now show was based on something else. Possibly many things, but I can only assume that, oddly, the merit of the work was one.


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Rose Wylie RA, African Barber Shop Sign, Oil; Sasha Okun, A Woman and a Man, Oil; and Tracey Emin, Open Heart, Acrylic.

PRIZESAs background, the RA was founded in 1768, with a philanthropic mission to establish a fine art school and fund it from the proceeds of an annual exhibition and  provide its students with a free art education. To achieve this, send-ins are normally capped at 12,000, but under Grayson Perry, 19,800 works were accepted. All entries were accompanied by a £35 submission fee, and the artists ranged from the very well known to psychiatric patients and prison inmates.


Banksy RA-1
“Although I agree with most of the typical liberal and progressive sentiments invoked by artists, I am not so keen when the issues seem to sideline, or even be a replacement for, aesthetic pleasure. Maybe I am old-fashioned but I go to art galleries and museums to enjoy myself.” Grayson Perry

As I flipped through the RA publications, I felt proud of the institution, but nonetheless, howling for the underdog has become a hard habit to break, so excuse me for posting this year’s entries by women only. Well, with the honourable exception of a token male’s submission, Vote to Love, by Banksy.

So thank you Grayson, since chromosomes are no longer an issue between us – I am wondering if I could possibly try on the runner-up dress from the annual ‘Grayson Perry Frock Competition by students from the Central St Marin’s art college in London?

The show runs from June 12th to August 19th. To enter work for the Summer Exhibition 2019, visit the web site at Roy.ac/submit

Thank you to the Royal Academy for all of the images in this article that have been gleaned from this year’s publications, with the exception of two from the Grayson Perry show held at the Serpentine Gallery in London.

Greay at Serpentine“I don’t have an agenda, I am looking to see what excites me.”

One thought on ““I have to do it badly in the right way”

  1. Great and interesting article which I have just seen! The 2018 RA Summer Exhibition showed that where equality exists, the outcome can be amazing. This was an exhibition never to be forgotten thanks to the ingenious Grayson Perry!


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