© Courtesy The Artist and Victoria Miro, London Grayson Perry


Grayson Perry (1960 – )


Accession number


In Village of the Penians Grayson Perry presents a fantasy village where the x-rated meets the parochial - where the erect penis (an explicit image, for which public usage is deemed a criminal offence) is implicit in every feature.

‘I wanted to play with the idea of a community whose folk religion was based on the worship of the phallus in place of the crucifix. Religious symbols often become visible to us, but when you think about it, the crucifix that we see in some cultures on every street is actually a torture instrument.’[1]

The base drawing, in black and white and glazed with silvery lustre, depicts a scene from the life of some village, and the jumble of historical elements is ridden with phallic shapes: a car, windows, bare-branched trees, hats and shoes, children’s toys, the patterns on clothes, bread, a candle and a fountain, while a crowned stone phallus sits in a shrine, labelled ‘hail the king’. Even the body of the vase itself matches the subject: it is a traditional model but it is on the tall and narrow side, rather than rounded.

The scene is overlaid with a selection of colour images, cut out and transferred: a Victorian lady in mauve feeding chickens might be taken to represent femininity, while images from an old boys’ adventure book might stand for masculinity: a 'Red Indian' Brave on his horse holds a staff that ‘looks like a strangely deflated red condom’, and a WWII Spitfire ‘with its red knob-end’ against a blue sky. It is, as Andrew Wilson observes, like some ‘fairytale Ruritanian kingdom’, paired with a ‘perverse S&M nursery’.[2] Meanwhile a little boy, whose shorts have a thematically-patched crotch, stares out at the viewer, and in his right hand he holds a grenade. The artist suggests, ‘The erect penis is the one image that we don’t see in the popular media. It’s as though it’s a dangerous thing, like a bomb that will go off if we see it.’[3]

In the early 2000s, Perry was making between 20 and 30 pots a year. Working with clay is a risky process: pots can explode during their multiple firings in the kiln (or they might be smashed subsequently by the artist). Village of the Penians was shown as part of Perry’s winning Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain in 2003; Perry’s work roused controversy, both in and out of the art world. The concept of protest at the heart of his work, and often dark subject matter is sugared by his adoption of craft as a mouthpiece - pottery is often an amateur pursuit, it is laborious and has a basic decorative, pleasing appearance. Perry proclaims himself an outsider, infiltrating fine art with pieces usually confined to ‘craft’ categorisation. As much as anything, he is protesting against the tasteful as something that is acceptable and therefore uninspiring.

[1] Klein, Jackie, Grayson Perry (Thames & Hudson, London 2009), p.141

[2] Klein, p.141

[3] Wilson, Andrew, ‘General Artist’, in Boot, Marion, ed., Grayson Perry: Guerrilla Tactics (NAi Publishers/Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 2002), p.88