When Grayson Perry won the Turner Prize in 2003, he appeared the epitome of metropolitan angst, a transvestite whose subject matter was child abuse and death.
But his latest work takes its inspiration from the countryside and reveals the 46-year-old artist and father as a lover of the National Trust and a defender of the tradition of hunting. He is more conservative than convention-busting.
Grayson Perry - The Charms of Lincolnshire is an exhibition of new work displayed amid real-life Victorian samplers, farming implements and smocks taken from the collections of the museum service in the county. Sometimes the distinction between the two is deliberately blurred as staged photographs of Perry dressed as a Victorian farmer's wife hang by vintage images of times long past. And Perry uses the word "charms" ambiguously, to invoke a bucolic cliché of National Trust England but also the sense of some forgotten rural voodoo, a world of hard labour for women and the threat of early death for children.
"We go to these blockbuster cultural shows like the Three Emperors at the Royal Academy. I wanted to present a show a bit like that but with stuff you might see hanging up in the pub. I wanted to make our own quite commonplace recent past quite exotic and present it like an ethnographic show," he said.
The show was prompted by an invitation from a new museum in Lincoln, The Collection, to peruse the historical county collections for inspiration.
Perry concentrated on items with a strong emotional charge for him, such as death, childhood, religion, folk art and hunting. Pride of place goes to a giant Victorian hearse. The centre-piece of the exhibition is a hearse dating from 1880, which inspired the artist to create a cast-iron child's coffin entitled Angel of the South. He describes it as both a non-triumphal monument to the countless victims of empire building in the Victorian age and the North of England's technological dominance.
"The biscuit-tin idyll of cosy village Britain is luckily in the past, for it was a candlelit back-breaking, sexist, tubercular child-death hell," he says. "The ghosts of long-ago children flicker in the dead-eyed familiars of wax, porcelain and wooden dolls I have chosen and in the stitches of the samplers worked by young pious hands."
In an essay for the exhibition, which opens at the Victoria Miro Gallery in London on Friday, he explains that he could not ignore the darker side of rural life - including the "ancient ritual" of hunting.
"There are aspects of field sports that I am uncomfortable with but I am not squeamish of slaughter or sentimental about wildlife," he said."Without a beautiful fox being torn to pieces all the pink coats and horns and hounds would be a hollow pageant."
In a similar vein, he has great respect for the National Trust. "They're guardians of some great treasures," he said. He has even designed his own tea-towel as might be purchased as a souvenir at a stately home because he "wanted to plug into that polite English heritage thing."
Although Perry was born and grew up in rural Essex, he has long lived and worked in London and his practice has dealt mainly with urban life. But he said that he was "very comfortable" in the countryside, unlike some artist friends who were frightened by the cows.
Besides this, he enjoyed the opportunity to produce work in response to an external source instead of his own life experiences. "I live in the art world, it's my village, but it's very nice to go to another village and make art about that. I found it very stimulating," he said. "I have a nostalgia for a time when I wasn't alive. I'm very moved by tradition and ritual. I think rebellion is for squares. It's an overly trodden path."
Perry admits he has enjoyed the spotlight since winning the Turner Prize three years ago.
"It offered something unique, which is kind of access to the media. I enjoy communicating. I have a supply of opinions that I need to vent and I like to be part of a national conversation."Reuse content