Grayson Perry (‘A Map of Days’) by Grayson Perry

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    'A Map of Days',    by Sir Grayson Perry,    2013,    NPG 6998,    © Grayson Perry and Paragon | Contemporary Editions Ltd
A self-portrait by contemporary British artist Grayson Perry, representing himself as a map.
'A Map of Days'
by Sir Grayson Perry
etching from four plates, artist's proof, 2013
43 3/4 in. x 59 5/8 in. (1111 mm x 1515 mm) overall
NPG 6998
© Grayson Perry and Paragon | Contemporary Editions Ltd

Grayson Perry (born 1960) is a contemporary British artist. He is also a writer and broadcaster. He is known for referencing his childhood and life experiences in his artwork. His work also comments on common themes that everybody can relate to including identity, gender, social status, sexuality and religion. 

Perry works in a variety of artistic media but is best known for his work in Ceramics Making and decorating objects made of clay. . He uses traditional methods to make his pots which contrast with the contemporary imagery on the surface. His techniques include Embossing To put a raised design or piece of writing on an object or material. and Photographic transfers Transferring a photographic image onto a new surface. to create intricate, vibrant designs.

Like A Map of Days, at first glance the pots can seem conventional, especially in terms of their Form The particular way something is, seems, looks or is presented. . But on looking closer, the surface is often covered with witty and sometimes hard-hitting images and messages.

Analysing the portrait

  • View larger image
    'A Map of Days',    by Sir Grayson Perry,    2013,    NPG 6998,    © Grayson Perry and Paragon | Contemporary Editions Ltd
'A Map of Days', by Sir Grayson Perry, 2013

Look carefully at the portrait. Take your time – look at it for at least a minute. What can you see?

This is a self-portrait. It is highly unusual as it doesn’t look like a conventional portrait.

    • Perry’s self-portrait takes the Form The particular way something is, seems, looks or is presented. of a map. He has called it A Map of Days.
    • It looks like a birds-eye view of a city with streets, buildings, woods and other details.
    • The portrait is full of detail. This is typical of Perry’s work.
    • The thick zig-zag line shows a wall that surrounds the city.
    • Areas in and around the city relate to his experiences and emotions.
    • Perry has said the wall can be thought of as like his skin. Just like a city, he is influenced by the ideas and ‘landscape’ that surrounds him.
  • Some of the main details include:

    • Roads that run from outside the city into the centre circle. The roads include names such as ‘Unearned privilege’, ‘Reputation’ and ‘Paralysed by indecision’.
    • Two branches of a fast-flowing river labelled ‘Inspiration’ and ‘Imagination’.
    • A space towards the bottom left called ’Contemplation’.
    • A square, wooded area to the top right called ‘Education’.
    • A more open, wooded space to the bottom right called ‘The natural world’.
    • Large areas to the bottom left and bottom right labelled ‘Culture’ and ‘Class’.
    • The area outside of the wall appears more open than the area inside.
    • Roads with names such as ‘Intuition’, ‘Fear of getting it wrong’, ‘Common humanity’, ‘Ambition’ and ‘Respect’.
    • An area labelled ‘Trauma’.
    • A circle at the centre that appears quite faint and empty. Although it is very difficult to see, there is a tiny figure kicking a can along a road and the words ‘A sense of self’. 
    • The circle is surrounded by the words ‘Creative side’, ‘Spiritual side’, ‘Bright side’ and ‘Dark side’.
    • His wife Philippa, inside the wall, centre right.
    • The English poet Philip Larkin, just to the bottom of the city wall. The title A Map of Days is based on Larkin’s poem ‘Days’. 
    • The British cyclist Bradley Wiggins is in the top left corner. Wiggins won an Olympic gold medal in 2012, just before Perry started the artwork. 
    • The influential art critic Robert Hughes, who died a few days after Perry started the artwork, is on the left-hand side.
    • Perry has said of this work that it is a way of showing how complex he thinks identity is. He has said: ‘... identity always seems like a slippery term to me … identity is a shifting multi-layered thing … it’s not this clean, simple “you are like this”...’
    • He has also said: ‘I think [the self] is not a single fixed thing but a lifelong shifting performance ... My “sense of self” is a tiny man kicking a can down the road.’ 
    • The details outside the wall could be the people, experiences or ideas that have influenced Perry.
    • The details inside the wall could be some of the ways he sees himself, or some of his feelings or qualities.
    • He says that the map also includes some quite random thoughts and ideas. For example, ‘Casual sexist’, the name of one of the roads inside the wall, was just something he heard on the radio.
    • The map is an etching. This is a traditional print-making technique that was first used in the early 1500s (although it is still widely used today).
    • The map looks very different from modern maps. It is black and white and includes intricately drawn pictures to suggest the different features of the landscape and townscape. Perry has also purposely used techniques that reference traditional approaches to printmaking, such as Hatching An artistic technique used to create tonal or shading effects by drawing (or painting or scribing) closely spaced parallel lines. to create light and dark Tone A shade of a colour. .
    • By using traditional techniques, Perry presents us with something that initially looks conventional (even old fashioned). But he overturns this by including details that reference modern life such as portraits of contemporary people, and text that suggests the complexities of dealing with life today.
If you’re sure that everything you’re going to do is going to be good, then what’s the point? I used to think of it as just crippling self-doubt. Now I kind of see it as a sign that I’m teetering on the edge of something new. Or troubling.
Grayson Perry, 2021

Who is Grayson Perry?

  • Grayson Perry was born in Chelmsford, Essex. He experienced a difficult childhood, including domestic violence. 
  • He became interested in Ceramics Making and decorating objects made of clay. as a child and was encouraged to study art by his secondary school art teacher. He studied fine art at Portsmouth Polytechnic.   
  • Perry began his career making sculptures and short films. He often featured himself as ‘Claire’, a name he sometimes uses when he dresses in women’s clothes. He describes himself as a ‘transvestite’. He has said: ‘I like wearing dresses but I’m not pretending to be anyone else. It’s just me in a dress.’ 
  • He spent years improving his skills in making ceramics and then buying his own kiln.
  • In 2003, Perry was awarded the prestigious Turner Prize A prestigious prize given every year to a British artist for a work of modern art. . The prize helped to raise his profile. Grayson Perry went on to become a household name.
  • As well as ceramics, Perry also creates large-scale tapestries and textiles. He has had large-scale solo exhibitions at institutions around the world. He has also Curate To select, organize and look after the objects or works of art in a museum or an art gallery.  key exhibitions, including the 250th Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy, London (2018).
  • In 2013, he was awarded a CBE for services to contemporary art. He was knighted in 2023.
  • He has been involved in several major television series including Grayson’s Art Club which began during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.

Why is this portrait significant?

  • A Map of Days is a highly unusual self-portrait, taking the Form The particular way something is, seems, looks or is presented. of a map of a walled city.
  • Perry has said: ‘We trust maps. Maps are meant to be a trustworthy diagram of reality. All maps, though, contain some human bias. They can emphasize desirable features and leave out the undesirable. I like maps of feelings, beliefs and the irrational; they use our trust of maps to persuade us that there might be some truth in their beauty.’

Questions

  1. Why do you think Grayson Perry chose to represent himself as a map?
  1. What do you think this map says about him?
  1. What would you include in your own self-portrait map? Would it take the form of a city, a country, an island ...?