Grayson Perry & the men

grayson-perry-2Reading the artist’s new book on masculinity was a frustrating experience. When he was talking about his own life he was great company, but he kept disappearing behind a cloud of right-on verbiage. From my review in The Times:

You spend page after page waiting for the oh-so-Islington prognostications to give way to Perry’s own Essex voice, quirky and contrarian yet laced with a winning measure of self-doubt. He is anything but the super-confident purveyor of wisdom: “I take risks. I am very competitive. I love throwing myself and my bike at speed down bumpy, muddy hillsides, yet when I return I am filled with anxiety about confronting my next-door neighbour about his infuriatingly yappy dog. I encourage students to design dresses for me that make me look daft and attention-seeking, but I burn with shame for an age after a bad review of my work.”

He is very sharp on how gender shapes our ideas about design and clothes. His personality shines through, too, in the full-page, cartoon-like illustrations that accompany the text. When, as a reformed road-rager, he wants to show us how men’s personalities change when they get behind the wheel of a car, he gives us a glorious image of a spear-wielding man charging across the savannah. At the same time you can’t help wondering if Perry is overstating his case. While he claims to be in favour of certain forms of masculinity, it isn’t always easy to detect what exactly they are. “The future of masculinity is a plethora of masculinities,” he announces in his tentative summing-up. But surely most of us can see how much has already changed just by looking at those giant billboards of David Beckham simmering in his underpants. Nowadays we are uncomfortable watching James Bond unzipping a woman’s dress, but we are happy to see him slowly gouging someone’s eyes out.

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