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Grayson Perry celebrates Essex Every Woman, Julie Cope, at Firstsite show

PUBLISHED: 16:41 16 November 2017 | UPDATED: 16:41 16 November 2017

Charles Holland and Grayson Perry inside The House For Essex, at Wrabness. Photo: Jack Hobhouse, Courtesy Living Architecture

Charles Holland and Grayson Perry inside The House For Essex, at Wrabness. Photo: Jack Hobhouse, Courtesy Living Architecture

Jack Hobhouse, Courtesy Living Architecture

Essex-artist Grayson Perry opens a new exhibition at Firstsite this weekend. Arts editor Andrew Clarke takes a look at a spectacular show celebrating the life of Essex every woman Julie Cope

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

Celebrated artist Grayson Perry, the Chelmsford-born Turner Prize winner, opens a spectacular new exhibition at Colchester’s Firstsite gallery this weekend featuring a collection of colourful giant-sized tapestries.

Entitled The Life of Julie Cope, the exhibition celebrates the life of his Essex every woman, the twice married, upwardly mobile housewife and mature student who he created a house for at Wrabness in 2015.

The House for Essex was a collaboration between Perry and Charles Holland of FAT Architecture. Together they created an ornate ceramic-clad, gingerbread-like house/chapel dedicated to the memory of Perry’s fictional Essex woman, Julie Cope.

A Perfect Match, 2015, by Grayson Perry, Courtesy the artist, Paragon | Contemporary Editions Ltd and Victoria Miro, London. A Perfect Match, 2015, by Grayson Perry, Courtesy the artist, Paragon | Contemporary Editions Ltd and Victoria Miro, London.

The house is available for rent and is decorated by Grayson Perry to help tell the story of Julie Cope, who according to her creator, was killed in 2014 in Colchester High Street, mown down by a take-away curry delivery driver.

Firstsite’s programme manager, Harriet Cooper, said that Grayson had long wanted an exhibition in Essex, and staging the show in the town where Julie Cope went to university as a mature student, before she met her untimely demise, was very fitting.

“Grayson has an entire life story mapped out for Julie, his Essex every woman, and this exhibition is a great way to explore how Grayson works. All the material comes from The House for Essex in Wrabness but because it is a rental property only a small number of people can see the work, so Grayson thought that a show featuring a selection of some of the works would be a great way of reaching a wider audience.”

Six Snapshots of Julie, 2015, Six woodcuts, by Grayson Perry, Courtesy the artist, Paragon | Contemporary Editions Ltd and Victoria Miro, London. Six Snapshots of Julie, 2015, Six woodcuts, by Grayson Perry, Courtesy the artist, Paragon | Contemporary Editions Ltd and Victoria Miro, London.

The show is made up of four large-scale tapestries, as well as woodcuts, ceramics and tiles designed for the House as well as sketchbooks and photographs that chart its development.

The two major tapestries illustrate the key events in Julie’s life, from her birth on Canvey Island during the great flood of 1953 to her untimely death in a tragic accident on Colchester High Street.

“They are big, colourful pieces, overflowing with cultural and architectural detail, the tapestries contain a social history of Essex and modern Britain that reflects Firstsite’s year-long focus on contemporary identity,” said Harriet.

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

The first, A Perfect Match is centred upon Julie’s conventional early life and ultimately doomed relationship with her first husband Dave. The second, In Its Familiarity, Golden depicts Julie’s ‘second act’, in which she takes control of her life and widens 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 sudden and untimely death at the age of 61, the result of a freak accident with a curry delivery scooter. It is this shocking incident that prompts Rob to build a ‘temple’ in memory of his beloved Julie – the ‘Taj Mahal upon the Stour.’

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 and Julie and Dave. Also included in the show is a series of black and white woodcuts, entitled Six Snapshots of Julie, which depict the six decades of Julie’s life.

The tapestries and woodcuts are displayed alongside an audio recording of The Ballad of Julie Cope, a 3000-word narrative written and read by Perry that builds upon his own childhood in Essex to illuminate Julie’s hopes and fears as she journeys through life.

Julie and Rob, 2013, by Grayson Perry, Courtesy the artist, Paragon | Contemporary Editions Ltd and Victoria Miro, London. Julie and Rob, 2013, by Grayson Perry, Courtesy the artist, Paragon | Contemporary Editions Ltd and Victoria Miro, London.

Harriet said: “When looking at Grayson’s sketchbooks and the correspondence between him and Charles Holland, you realise the thought and the detail which has gone into this whole project. They have even come up with a CD collection for Julie as well as stocked the house with the sort of books that Julie would have on her shelves.

Firstsite director Sally Shaw said ‘Essex-born Grayson Perry is both a world-renowned artist and Firstsite is honoured and excited to be presenting an exclusive set of works which have not been shown together in public before. What’s particularly brilliant about The Life of Julie Cope is that these exuberant tapestries are a vibrant celebration of a very Essex story.”

The Life of Julie Cope by Grayson Perry is at Firstsite, Colchester, from this weekend until February 18 2018.

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