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Tapestry of Essex Everywoman’s life caught at Grayson Perry’s Firstsite show

PUBLISHED: 18:06 12 December 2017 | UPDATED: 18:06 12 December 2017

Grayson Perry with Charles Holland of FAT Architecture, who worked together on the Wrabness house Photo: Jack Hobhouse, Courtesy Living Architecture

Grayson Perry with Charles Holland of FAT Architecture, who worked together on the Wrabness house Photo: Jack Hobhouse, Courtesy Living Architecture

Katie Hyams 2015

Turner Prize-winning artist’s exhibition at Firstsite expounds the fictional world of an Essex everywoman that inspired his ‘Taj Mahal on the Stour’.

In its Familiarity Golden by Grayson Perry 2015. Copywright Grayson Perry. Courtesy the artist, Paragon | Contemporary Editions Ltd and Victoria Miro, LondonIn its Familiarity Golden by Grayson Perry 2015. Copywright Grayson Perry. Courtesy the artist, Paragon | Contemporary Editions Ltd and Victoria Miro, London

Recent work by Grayson Perry has had at its heart the affection the Turner Prize-winning artist holds for Essex, the county of his birth. The Hansel and Gretel-like ceramic-clad A House For Essex he designed in collaboration with Charles Holland of FAT Architecture in 2015 still strikes out above the mudflats of the Stour in Wrabness and now the tapestries and ceramic inside, which you would normally only have seen if you booked a stay, for hundreds of pounds a night, at the house, are on show at Colchester’s Firstsite gallery until February for free.

The exhibition is called The Life of Julie Cope and charts the life, loves and untimely death - a fatal collision with a moped courier carrying a takeaway curry in Colchester High Street - of fictional ‘Essex everywoman’ Julie. The house is a key part in Julie’s story, which has it that it was created as a Taj Mahal-like shrine upon her death by her besotted husband Rob.

The work on show has a grandeur to match the fairytale majesty of A House For Essex - all part of Perry’s plan to champion the heroism in the everday small scale battles of a normal life. Tapestries and epic poems are normally reserved for leaders and ruling classes, but not here.

Tickets for Firstsite’s auditorium wre sold out in hours when it was announced Perry would visit the Colchester art gallery to discuss The Life of Julie and A House For Essex this month. It is a coup for the gallery to house such a large-scale exhibition by Britain’s most famous living artist. The exhibition stays at Firstsite until February as part of a national tour, designed, in Perry’s words, to “widen the audience for art without dumbing it down”.

The ‘Taj Mahal upon the Stour'. Grayson Perry's house in Wrabness Photo: Jack Hobhouse, Courtesy Living ArchitectureThe ‘Taj Mahal upon the Stour'. Grayson Perry's house in Wrabness Photo: Jack Hobhouse, Courtesy Living Architecture

The exhibition includes tapestries, woodcuts, ceramics and tiles designed for the House as well as sketchbooks and photographs that chart its development. The two major tapestries, designed and made for the Essex House Tapestries and acquired by the Crafts Council Collections in 2017, tell the story of Julie’s life.

The first tapestry, A Perfect Match (2015), is centered upon Julie’s conventional early life and ultimately doomed relationship with her first husband Dave. The second, In Its Familiarity, Golden (2015), sees Julie take control of her life and widen her horizons. She relocates to Maldon with her children and attends university in Colchester, where she meets her second husband Rob. Together Julie and Rob share a profound happiness that lasts until her untimely death and Rob’s “Taj Mahal upon the Stour” in her honour.

The two further tapestries, made for the bedrooms at A House for Essex, are portraits of Julie and her life with each of her husbands: Julie and Rob (2013), and Julie and Dave (2015). Also included in the show is a series of black and white woodcuts, entitled Six Snapshots of Julie (2015), which

depict the six decades of Julie’s life.

Visitors will also get to hear Perry’s dulcet tones in an audio recording of The Ballad of Julie Cope, a 3,000-word narrative written by the artist that builds upon his own childhood in Essex to illuminate Julie’s hopes and fears as she journeys through life. When writing Julie’s biography,

Perry says these artworks represent “the trials, tribulations, celebrations and mistakes of an average life”.

Grayson Perry’s The Life of Julie Cope is at Firstsite, Lewis Gardens, in Colchester, until February 18 next year. The gallery is open from 10am to 5pm. For more details, call 01206 713 700.

Grayson Perry related events at Firstsite during the run of the exhibition

Curator Tour

Friday, January 26 2018, 2pm

Free, booking required.

An opportunity to join exhibition curator Harriet Cooper for an insight into the ideas and inspirations behind the show.

Charles Holland: A House for Essex and Other Stories

Tuesday, February 6 2018, 7pm

£8, booking required

FAT Architecture’s Charles Holland will tell the story of the architecture of ‘A House For Essex’ via a journey across the county, from its industrial London fringe to its agricultural north.

Exhibition Tours

Every Wednesday and Saturday, 11am

Free, drop-in

Join a member of our Front-of-House team for a short tour of The Life of Julie Cope. Meet at the exhibition entrance, beside the mosaic space.

School Visits

Email schools@firstsite.uk to find out how Firstsite can help your group make the most of their exhibition visit.

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