Grayson Perry is one of Britain’s best-known contemporary artists. He works with traditional media such as ceramics, cast iron, bronze, printmaking and tapestry, and is interested in how each historic category of object accrues intellectual and emotional value over time. Perry is a great chronicler of contemporary life, drawing viewers in with beauty, wit, affecting
sentiment and nostalgia as well as fear and anger. His hard-hitting and exquisitely crafted works reference his own childhood and life as a transvestite while also engaging with wider social issues from class and politics to sex and religion.
House for Essex (2015), is the building designed by Perry in collaboration with Charles Holland of FAT Architecture. An ornate ceramic-clad, gingerbread-like edifice, A House for Essex serves as a secular chapel to the memory of a fictional Essex woman, Julie Cope. Situated overlooking the scenic Stour Estuary in the village of Wrabness in north-east Essex, the House is both an artwork in itself and the setting for a number of works by Perry that explore the special character and unique qualities of the county. A House for Essex was commissioned by Living Architecture, which was founded to change public perceptions about modern architecture by building houses that are rented by the public for holidays.
Firstsite's exhibition of The Life of Julie Cope is a unique presentation consisting of tapestries, woodcuts, ceramics and tiles designed for the House as well as sketchbooks and photographs that chart its development. Included are The Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015), on loan from the Crafts Council Collection. The two major tapestries illustrate the key events in the protagonist’s journey, from her birth on Canvey Island during the great flood of 1953 to her untimely death in a tragic accident on Colchester High Street. 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.