Perry a surprise winner as judges look to 'subtle shock'

An artist who turns giant ceramic pots into objects of cutting-edge art was the surprise winner of this year's £20,000 Turner prize last night.

The most prestigious and controversial honour in British art went not to the bookies' favourites, the brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman, but to Grayson Perry, 43, a family man who appeared at the award ceremony as his transvestite alter ego, Claire.

The potter, who buried his head in his hands as the result was announced, stepped to the podium to accept the prize dressed in a self-designed lilac dress which cost £2,500.

He said: "It's about time a transvestite potter won the Turner prize."

With the ceremony shown live on Channel 4 and conscious of the 9pm watershed, he alluded to Philip Larkin's poem about the negative effect of parents on your life without using the F-word on air. He also thanked his wife, Philippa, a psychotherapist, for supporting his work.

The Chapman brothers have recently been the shock troops of contemporary art, surpassing Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst with black works on the Holocaust, mutilated children and war.

They were widely tipped for the prize after producing a series of dramatic exhibitions this year including one show of ethnographic carvings and another where they defaced a valuable set of Goya etchings.

The complete body of an artist's work in the past year is considered by the judging panel of curators and other experts, not just those works shown in the Turner prize exhibition, which runs at Tate Britain until 18 January.

It was Perry's subtle brand of shock which eventually seduced the judges - though they took more than four hours to make their choice.

The bulk of Perry's art is in the formerly uncool craft of pottery. But a closer inspection of his superficially conventional world of shimmering glazes shows the pots feature scenes of paedophilia, child murder and sado-masochistic sex.

The appearance of his alter ego, Claire, as a character emphasises his own unhappy childhood in Essex where his stepfather spoke to him only to criticise and he struggled with his enjoyment of dressing up in his sisters' clothes.

However, Vase Using My Own Family brings his personal story up to date by featuring his current life as a happily married man. His daughter, Florence, appears in a series of photographs which form part of his Turner prize exhibit. He was also shortlisted for his shows at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the Barbican in London.

Sir Nicholas Serota, the Tate's director and chairman of the jury, said the judges wanted to stress the strength of all four of this year's artists. The other contenders were Willie Doherty and Anya Gallaccio.

The prize is awarded to an artist under the age of 50 who is British or works in Britain. Many critics rated this year's 20th anniversary exhibition the best for some years.

The Chapman brothers' inclusion of a bronze sculpture of blow-up dolls engaged in oral sex generated a tabloid furore for which the exhibition has become best known.

The Tate put up a warning at the entrance that some exhibits might be unsuitable for children under 16. It applied at least as much to Perry's work as it did to the Chapman brothers'.

Previous winners
  • 2002 Keith Tyson
  • 2001 Martin Creed
  • 2000 Wolfgang Tillmans
  • 1999 Steve McQueen
  • 1998 Chris Ofili
  • 1997 Gillian Wearing
  • 1996 Douglas Gordon
  • 1995 Damien Hirst
  • 1994 Antony Gormley
  • 1993 Rachel Whiteread
  • 1992 Grenville Davey
  • 1991 Anish Kapoor
  • 1990 No prize
  • 1989 Richard Long
  • 1988 Tony Cragg
  • 1987 Richard Deacon
  • 1986 Gilbert & George
  • 1985 Howard Hodgkin
  • 1984 Malcolm Morley

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