On Sunday night I watched Grayson Perry’s new TV series, All in the Best Possible Taste.
According to English etiquette, it is considered rude and wrong to openly discuss class and taste. And so Grayson Perry, the nation’s alternative artist, cross-dresser and Turner Prize winner (2003), and his curious obsession for travelling the country to observe and document our varying classes and according tastes is going to be all the more interesting.
Perry, 52, and his female alter-ego Claire, began his journey in Sunderland (10pm 5th June, All in The Best Possible Taste, Channel 4) and, within the hour, he had completed the first of the six tapestries he is creating to depict the class journey of the British. Heavily inspired by William Hogarth’s 18th Century paintings, these tapestries will reveal the truth behind today’s society.
But, as I watched I wondered, is it acceptable for Perry to question the working-class’ fascination with fast cars, tattoos, bare-legged nights out and front room ornaments? Was he sneering, snooping or is this just another form of reality TV, disguised as a documentary? And, why taste and class? “Because people care about it. People cringe, people look embarrassed, people laugh about taste,” says Perry.
His instincts are actually right and his morality is neither wrong nor vulgar. The people of Sunderland shared with him their intimate motivations and ambitions and, at the end of the episode, seemed to love the tapestries illustrating their tastes. I even found myself moved by the graduation photographs and, for the first time, fully appreciated the top-to-toe tattoo culture as Perry commented: “A Sunderland hard man spends a greater proportion of his income on tattoo art than a London banker does on a Damien Hirst.”
Perry maybe be alternative in his art and is often described as a ‘transvestite potter’ but here he is insightful, articulate and down- to- earth – and so he makes great viewing. My final remaining question is: how well will he go down with the Tunbridge Wells folk next week?
Grayson Perry’s new tapestries are at Victoria Miro Gallery, London N1 from 7 June to 11 August. All in the Best Possible Taste continues on Tuesday 12 June at 10pm on Channel 4.
This article appears on Culture Compass.