Grayson Perry: Posh Cloths | Victoria Miro

Grayson Perry’s been making a multi-media attack on the idea of Englishness over recent years. In 2019, Perry had an exhibition of pots on this theme at Victoria Miro’s Mayfair space in 2019. Most recently, there’s this exhibition of textile works, and a TV show called Grayson Perry’s Full English. In both, Perry pokes at, and sometimes celebrates, English people’s sense of themselves.

I said the exhibition had “textile works”, but these particular posh cloths are actually tapestries. Posh, because tapestries tend to hang in stately homes. What’s on these particular machine-stitched tapestries though? Scenes from today’s England which are far from stately.

Grayson Perry, ‘Battle of Britain’ (2017)

Battle of Britain, from 2017 and pictured above, sums it up. The landscape is inspired by Paul Nash’s 1941 painting of the same name, updated for our times, when the battle is with ourselves, not some foreign invaders, whatever some of our newspapers might say.

That low, cloudy sky. The shabby terrace houses backing on to a train line, which itself backs onto a more typically bucolic landscape of patchwork fields. The shadow of pollution from factory and motorway. The graffiti: VOTE LEAVE, CLASS WAR. It’s Perry’s artistic sleight of hand that allows him to present such a bleak scene so humorously, even warmly. Maybe it’s the rainbow that blesses the scene, just between a slurry-soaked field and a pestilential swarm of starlings.

My fellow gallery goers enjoyed picking out the familiar details as much as I did. Maybe we particularly enjoyed the bits that poked at our demographic, the kind of people who hike up and down Victoria Miro’s steep staircase on a Saturday afternoon: the Ocado van maybe, or the motorway sign for the Eurotunnel.

Grayson Perry, ‘Sacred Tribal Artefact’ (2023)

In case that was too subtle, Perry makes his point more clearly in Sacred Tribal Artefact, a new tapestry from this year. A mangy old English lion, flaccid and flatulent, hands over the flag of St George to a young, smartly dressed Black woman.

Yet again, it’s hard not to get affectionately lost in the details on this particular posh cloth. My favourite lay between the lion’s paws on a landscape of rolling, rainbow-like hills stand two towers: 1 Canada Square, the summit of the Canary Wharf business district in London, and a Norman church tower. I’ve somehow resisted saying it so far but… this is England!

Grayson Perry: Posh Cloths is at Victoria Miro (London). 03 February - 25 March 2023