Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years at the Sainsbury Centre

On the 19th of September, The Sainsbury’s Centre opened its latest exhibition to the public, entitled Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years. I was overjoyed that Perry’s work was right on my doorstep, with him being one of the most recognisable contemporary artists in Britain. Grayson Perry is most known for his exploration of gender and identity but in his more formative work he shows a true rawness of expression. Perry creates art with a ruggedness that reverberates throughout all his work but is particularly prevalent in The Pre-Therapy Years.

The exhibit shows the genesis of Perry’s work: old sketchbooks from college illustrate the early signs of beautiful chaos he was destined to embed into vases, plates and other pieces of pottery. The intricacy in his work is not for the sake of delicacy, but for impact. He approaches taboo subjects like trauma and gender fluidity with unflinching confidence and without censorship. If pottery could be branded as “punk”, then Grayson Perry made it possible. Somehow, through the complex subject matters he manages to display a wicked sense of humour within the horrors. Usage of colour, cartoonish drawings and mixed media evokes an almost playful image of the less-than-happy concepts at play in his work.

The exhibit is not so grotesque you can’t bear to look – quite the opposite; the grotesque nature of some of the pieces only invite you to look closer at what details he’s decided to include. Jesus being depicted with his guts hanging out of an open wound and weights in “delicate” places, images of bound women and even nazihood. This is not an art exhibit meant for the young or faint of heart, however, this all culminates in a striking and impactful assemblage of artwork.

Perry described seeing the exhibit for the first time as meeting “an angrier, more priapic me” and I feel like I can echo his own sentiment. Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years is the raw image of an extremely talented but troubled individual with a lot to express and all of the initiative and brilliance to express it artistically. 

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Georgina Matuska

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January 2022
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