Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Walthamstow Tapestry

Detail from The Walthamstow Tapestry, 2009

Grayson Perry's 15x3 metres wall hanging refers to The Bayeux Tapestry, but also to my hometown of Walthamstow, where William Morris (who designed many tapestries of his own) was born. In interview, Perry wondered if Morris would "be spinning in his grave thinking about a digital tapestry", "with all his love of fine craftmanship".

Woodpecker Tapestry, a William Morris design

The Bayeux Tapestry, for example, took around ten years to be embroidered (thus making it technically not a tapestry but an embroidery). The Walthamstow Tapestry, by contrast, was machine-woven in a matter of days.

Perry's tapestry, like Morris', harks back to the tapestry designs of the Middle Ages, as does Perry's embroidered sampler Recipe for Humanity. However, Perry has said that the tapestry's design owes more to antique Malaysian batiks and Eastern European folk art.

Recipe for Humanity, 2005

Like much of Perry's work, The Walthamstow Tapestry can be read as a satirical homage to the modern "religion" of consumerism. Brand names appear all over the tapestry, divorced from their logos and imagery, ranging from high-end fashion labels to the high street chains found in Walthamstow's Selbourne Walk mall.

The tapestry also depicts the Ages of Man, from a bloody birth to passage into a "demonic mouth". It even acknowledges Walthamstow's knife crime problem by depiciting a haloed youth holding a glinting dagger.

In amongst these dramatic scenes are more mudane images of people going about their everyday lives; hoovering, walking the dog, and (crucially) shopping.

Perry's studio is in Walthamstow and some of his previous ceramic work has featured scenes from the town. With his beautifully realised hand-thrown and decorated pots Perry follows in the tradition of Walthamstow's most famous son, craftsman William Morris.

Golden Ghosts, 2001

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