When I first came across Grayson Perry I have to say I was distinctly underwhelmed, I think because it all seemed to be about him and not about the art. As I result I ignored him for a while but slowly as I started to come across him more, listen to what he was saying and look at his art my mind was totally changed. In fact I now think that he is not only one of Britain’s best contemporary artists but he is also one of the best commentators on art, he has an engaging quizzical style that enables him to get across concepts and ideas in a very accessible style. This perhaps culminated in his Bafta award winning documentary series All in the Best Possible Taste in which Grayson visited Sunderland, Tunbridge Wells and the Cotsworlds and created tapestries depicting a story inspired by art history and the different social groups, classes and tastes that he came across during the visit to the very different regions of England.
Since seeing the documentary I’ve always wanted to see the tapestries so was very excited when I heard that they were coming to Leeds and would be installed for a period in Temple Newsam House. It’s worth mentioning the curation of the exhibition as I think it was a very clever idea to place the tapestries within a stately home as opposed to an art gallery. The tapestries themselves primarily deal with issues of taste and class and are full of artefacts that reflect this. Seeing them hanging on the walls (each one in a different room) of the South Wing surrounded by the changing styles and taste of previous centuries gave them a suitable backdrop that could not be recreated in any art gallery.
The tapestries tell the story of Tim Rakewell and his rise from impoverished working class Sunderland to nouveau riche stately home owner after Tim’s success as an app developer and his sale of his company to Richard Branson and finally his death after crashing his Ferrari showing off to his new trophy wife. The Story is “The Geek’s Progress” – a headline that appears on the ipad on tapestry 4 and is a nod to William Hogarth’s “A Rakes Progess” which tells the story of Tom Rakewell and his descent from inherited riches to madness, destitution and death. Grayson’s modern take on Hogarth’s work is brought into focus in the exhibition which enables you to compare the two bodies of work as all 8 of Hogarth’s pictures are reproduced in the room that houses Grayson’s final tapestry.
Whilst I’d seen pictures of the tapestries and seen the documentary on the inspiration behind them nothing can prepare you for the stunning colours, vividness and detail of seeing them in them up close. There is so much detail that personally I could look at each one for a considerable period of time, they hold your eye as you take in all that is going on and in looking at them for a prolonged period my brain was totally engaged in thinking about Tim’s progress and what this tells us about Britain today and who we are.
(The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal)
Artefacts play out strongly across the tapestries, and this again links through to where they exhibited as you pass through rooms full of artefacts of the period before you get to the tapestries. From the miners lamp, to the cafetiere, the football shirt to the Cath Kidston bag so many assumptions are made on the clothes and artefacts we wear and surround ourselves with. Technology and how it has changed is also strongly reflected throughout the journey, from the very first tapestry where the baby Tim reaches out his mother’s mobile phone screen, the huge cranes of the declining shipyards to be replaced by call centres, the tablet computers and app development that brought Tim his fortune.
(The Upper Class at Bay, Or An Endangered Species Brought Down)
In comparison to A Rake’s Progress which dealt with someone’s descent from riches to rags, The Geek’s Progress charts the successful rise from impoverished background to stately home. As Britain becomes more and more unequal and social mobility less and less achievable Perry is I think asking important questions on what sort of society we want. On one of the tapestries Jamie Oliver is depicted as the god of social mobility looking down as Tim moves across to the middle classes, however Tim as Grayson did attended a Grammar School and I wonder if Grayson is making comment here that this is now one of the only ways to achieve social mobility. In the end though both Tim and Tom lie naked and dead each destroyed by their wealth.
Across these six tapestries Grayson Perry weaves an extraordinary exploration of British social history over the last thirty years encompassing politics, class, taste, social observation, art history, celebrity culture, changing industry, technology and social media.
It does all of this is a very accessible format, my kids came with me and both said how much they’d enjoyed it partly because they could follow and understand it. The accompanying booklet is really excellent, there is an app that you can also download and this is available on tablets in the exhibition so that you can explore the tapestries in more detail and look up many of the other historical pieces of art from the 15th century that inspired the work.
The exhibition is on till December 7, I’ll definitely be going again.
How do you know where you are? An obvious question perhaps but sometimes finding an answer is not as easy. Can you remember what it was like when you first started venturing out of the house on your own, you slowly got to know your local area both by the buildings and the places where you would play. It was easy to say going to the park or the field (the field for me was where we played football, rugby and cricket next to the school) and then on the way to the river there was the old barn field (it had an old barn in it). We had places like Jenkins field, even though it might have been a long time since anyone called Jenkins had lived in the farm that owned the field. As you start to venture further afield which for me was on a road bike (or a racer as they were known back then) farms became quite key landmarks to navigate with using the good old OS map.
I still like riding bikes and using maps but when it comes to mountain biking, especially riding locally then there are other ways to navigate and that is Trail Names. Anyone who rides regularly with others will have local names for where they ride, names that you won’t find on any map with stories behind them. Often when you are out you will know where you are (in a particular wood for example) but you won’t really know where you are as in where is this wood geographically and it’s here that trail names come into there own. You need to find a way to describe where you are going, let’s head to ….. or where you are meeting up or where you have been and how brilliant / rubbish you rode a particular section which is what trail names give you, they are the framework to provide the narrative for your ride. The names will cover all different parts of your ride off road, could be a long flowy bit of single track, a particular feature or just a corner.
The names grow up organically, often due to some incident or other and they are tribal in nature, so what we might call something another crew will call in something completely different. I’m not a strava user (and am fiercely anti it really) but what it is doing is codifying sections so that slowly everyone will know sections by one name which I personally feel is a shame as I like the hyper localism of trail names. Stava might also prevent the changing of trail names as well, currently names evolve as either riders change, different things happen, superstition takes over etc all of which creates a language of features that only we know. As you start to ride with a crew slowly you will learn the routes, features and names and it becomes a right of passage until you never know something might get named after you.
Here’s a few of our local ones but I’d be interested in your favourites as well and how they came about.
- Last Drag – we often end our rides here. It’s just an incline across a field but it is a drag
- Travelator – classic starting point to many of our rides. It’s just ribbon of mud leading to a steep bank into the woods but like the travelator from the Gladiator TV show, when it’s wet and muddy you can feel like you are going backwards pretty quickly
- Puddle Duck – Possibly one of the best sections of trail in the area, multiple lines snake off the puddle duck through the woods. A place where all will be tested no matter what their ability. Tiz a bit of a beast to ride up though and named after a particular person from Garage Bikes who doesn’t like it. This trail name is a classic in that lots of people ride it but most will know it as something completely different.
- Leon’s Leap – A corner on the puddle duck, Leon overshot it and took to the sky
- The Spa – When you are leaving the woods with the puddle duck in it there is The Spa. Just the muddiest, squelchiest little section. It never drains and is muddy in summer, in winter it requires fatbike like tyres to get through it. You will put your foot down and the mud will ooze into your shoes / boots. Some would pay good money to be covered in mud – hence The Spa
- Better Climb Than Descent – Narrow and a little bit technical but not too technical so all can ride it, however it’s better to go up it. Going down it’s got thorns, barb wire fence, dog walkers etc making it a potential problem
- 5D – (Daz & Deano’s Death Defying Descent) – Bones and bikes broken but they did defy death
- Pinball Run – For me a local route that terrifies me. Very fast (if you want it to be) descent, steep at the top and bits of rock all over the place, get your line wrong and you will be pinged about like a ball in a pinball machine
- Jesus Ain’t Got Shit on Me – One of the best names, the reality is just a mud bank across a reservoir but hit it when the water level is just so and you will appear to riding on water never mind walking
- Collarbone Corner – yep you can all guess what happened to someone here
- Lynne’s Drop – very steep section off one of the local trails discovered by Lynne
- The Death Star Run – another great name, we’ve all seen Star Wars with Luke using the force to storm his way down the trench to destroy the death star. This is our mountain bike equivalent, hit this at warp speed and you will need the force to guide you through
- Dog Shit Flavoured Treacle – just a drag up a field, however the field is surround by houses so dog owners use the field, it also gets very muddy in winter and pedalling is like riding through treacle
- Wiggly Wiggly – classic wiggly ride through trees in another wood
- Knife Edge – a parallel route to wiggly wiggle but is raised with a gulley on one side and a long drop on the other so you ride exposed
- Blood Lane – or Warren’s Lane (which is what most know it as) or The Destroyer. On Strava this will be Warren’s Lane but it used to be known as the Destroyer as it did exactly that to bikes and bodies, superstition took hold and it changed to The Delight as it is anything but. I know it as Blood lane or Bloody lane as it is where the blood drained away from a civil war battlefield that is at the top.
So none of those names will mean much apart from to us, the locals who ride them but new names crop up all the time. Last night we were out riding and after going through a fence gap had to ride up a very steep lane, no run up just a standing start in the lowest gear you have (the granny ring) so that lane is now Grab a Granny
See you all at the top of Blood lane before we attack Wiggly Wiggly then head over to play on the Puddle Duck before taking a dip in the Spa
I’m on a quest. To fill that pure, unadulterated hour. Sandwiched between the two thick slabs of morning and afternoon. In my job I’m lucky enough to have an hour break for lunch and I’m looking for new bite-sized stuff to do.
I like the old, Victorian, philanthropic capitalists like local lad Titus Salt, the Lever brothers, Mr Cadbury, and the Rowntree family. Whilst counting their money they provided their workers with distractions, other than just combing wool, making soap or stirring chocolate.
These forward looking individuals knew that work wasn’t the be-all and end-all. The well-being of employees was on the agenda. Maybe it wasn’t just altruism, maybe they got more work out of a more content work force.
And those Victorian types were all for setting up societies to discuss big matters and learn more about each other and the world. From now on I’ll devote more of my lunchtimes to see what this city can offer its workers around noon.
So far I’ve been digging some mindfulness at the local Buddhist temple. Taken piano lessons again after a break of 20 years. I’ve got on my bike and cycled down river to see leaping Salmon. Discovered a lecture about magic lanterns (basically the demonic precursor to PowerPoint ). Went hunting for the grave of Pablo Fanque, Victorian circus impresario, whose name is immortalised in the Beatles song, Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite. The other week I attended a gathering of local philosophers in a pub to talk about Truth. So instead of window shopping and eating a pasty at the desk I’m going to look for lunchtime enlightenment through exploratory meanderings, lectures, travel, eating and leisure. And be back in an hour.
When you visit somewhere new your eyes tend to focus upwards at the architecture around you which gives you a flavour of the history, style, and beauty (or otherwise) or a place. This is of course perfectly natural but perhaps taking the time to focus down at the ground under your feet provides another interesting sense of place as after all the buildings around you are built from the ground up so perhaps the ground can also tell a story.
I started thinking about this as I walked up the main shopping street in Malaga recently and became aware of the smoothness of the surface, looking down I noticed that the street was made up of the most beautifully polished stone flags, so smooth they were almost marble like. For me this gave the whole street a real feeling of decadence, then at the end of the street as I walked into Constitution Square I noticed the paving changing to sumptuous burnt red that was so inviting I slipped my shoes off to feel the smoothness and warmth on my feet. Now I’ve never done this before but they just looked so inviting to walk on and they were spotlessly clean as I found out they they are all hosed down each morning (creating a very slippy surface for a short while if you happen to be up).
The more I walked around the city the more I started to notice the different stone patterns, all carefully selected and laid out. There seemed to be a real history to this as underneath the Picasso museum there are some small remains from the Phoenician times and you can see careful stonework making up the street which is replicated through to the Roman and Moorish remains around the city. This trend appears to have carried through to the modern day and it made my think that anywhere that takes this much care over where we place our feet has got something going for it. Have a look around your own area next time you are walking around and see what the paving etc might tell you.
I really enjoy getting away to another city for a couple of days when possible, it’s amazing how much you can pack in while still taking it easy having plenty of chill time. After a weekend, though often tired I feel completely refreshed, it’s so good to see other places, see how people live, shop, eat, drink etc. As I gaze out of my window at the torrential rain I can still feel the warmth in my bones from last weekends trip to Malaga which is, in my view a simply brilliant city to spend a couple of days in. Small enough to wander around on foot easily, relaxed, warm and with plenty of options of things to have a look at and experience as you wander around which is the perfect mix for me. In fact I enjoyed it so much I’ve got a few different blog posts to write such was the variety of the experience.
If at all possible I like to try and go somewhere in Southern Europe in May as it feels like a huge reward to be able to stroll about in shirt sleeves, the sun warming the bones, a cold beer sat outside somewhere watching the world go by which is in stark contrast to the last few months hunkering down in the cold and rain of Northern Europe. Malaga fits the bill perfectly for this, couple of hours flight but feels like a different world and a solid 25 degrees C.
Of course many (perhaps most?) of the planeloads landing at Malaga airport go nowhere near the city as they head off to the beaches and resorts but walk out of the doors of the airport and twenty minutes later a fast train from the station across the road will have whisked you into the city centre. Once there ditch the bags and head out to explore.
Malaga spans almost 3,000 years of history after being founded by the Phoneticians falling subsequently under the control of the Romans, Visigoths, Vandals, Moors before finally settling under Christian rule in the 1400’s. The history is reflected in the remains of the Roman theatre right in the heart of the city, the castle of Gibralfaro, numerous churches and a huge Cathedral. When you combine this history and architecture together with the cities three fantastic art galleries (modern, Picasso and traditional), a regenerated harbour area and a beach a mere ten minutes stroll from the centre you have all the ingredients for a good city.
The city centre is pieced together by a maze of old streets and squares with a seemingly endless supply of eateries making it perfect for just wandering around. At night the atmosphere was really special as seemingly the whole of the city comes out for the Spanish tradition of el paseo where all ages stroll around, chat, greet friends, eat ice cream and create an atmosphere that just makes you want to smile. Pitch yourself on an outside table with some wine and people watch to your heart’s content, it’s as far removed from the average Saturday night in any British town or city as it’s possible to imagine. I can hugely recommend it and hopefully the pictures give an overall flavour of the city.
Following my photos in January and it’s great success I enlisted the help of 9 others to join up for an April version of the same thing. Now before you think this is a group of people who all live in Leeds, you are mistaken, these photos come far and wide and have winged their way locally from Leeds, Sheffield, Chester, and Llandinum (its in Wales before you ask!).
I have had great fun collating all the pictures and seeing how people have interpretated the project, and one of the things that sticks out to me is my connection that I have to all the people. The mix of people involved include friends from twitter, neighbours, bestest chums, a friends sisters as well as a few of my family members.
The photos show imagination, excitement, fun and great colour and to me illustrate the commonality I have with all the people involved despite some of us being 100s of miles apart. Unsurprisingly there have been similar images of gardening, craft, cooking, food, the outdoors and architecture and all stand out as things that bring you all together through me.
Whilst gathering the images I asked for some feedback from people, the comments overall highlight that its been enjoyable, and has mainly enabled people to consider positive things and fun activities they have been doing. Below are some of their thoughts….
“Its been fun doing this but even more fun looking back over the last month and seeing how different each day is”
“I enjoyed taking the time out to find something special everyday, even in the ordinary like a trip to the gym. It’s so easy to forget and whizz past what’s important so this made me focus on that. The everyday, ordinary, important stuff!”
“It’s a tiny bit of mindfulness that makes you appreciate the good things”
“The days that just involve waking up, working and coming home can be tough, and it has been really rewarding to identify something that has made me smile”
“Had lovely time taking photos. focused the mind on particular point in the day”
“Doing the April ‘photo a day’ was great fun. It was sometimes hard to remember to do as time flies by at the moment and I struggled to not make every picture of my little boy (being an obsessed parent)”
“Surprisingly I never forgot to take a photo. Unsurprisingly they seem to reflect a busy life”.
Hope you enjoy looking at the photos, and thank you to everyone involved.