I’ve just read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl, which is the autobiography of Grayson Perry, the artist who won the Turner Prize in 2003. I quite like his art, but the main reason I bought the book was that I enjoy his columns for the Times (if that link doesn’t work, you’ll just have to go to their main site and search for yourself).
Perry is one of the more memorable Turner Prize winners, though not really for his work. I mentioned that I was reading the book to my mother, and she looked blank at ‘Grayson Perry’ but immediately knew who I meant by ‘the transvestite potter’. It’s a brilliant bit of branding. I’m quite certain he didn’t become either a transvestite or a potter to make himself more memorable, but it has certainly worked.
So the obvious reason to read the book, which covers his life up to the point where he sold his first work, is to learn either about the transvestism or the art, and he writes well about both. Actually, though, it’s an enjoyable book in its own right. It was written by a friend of his, Wendy Jones, based on taped interviews, and it has the intimate immediacy of the spoken voice. It would be an good read just as a memoir of growing up in Essex in the 60s and 70s, although the second half of the book, which deals with the time from when he left home to study art, is probably more immediately anecdote-worthy.
Here’s a semi-random extract, describing a summer-job:
Being a sugar factory where zillions of tonnes of sugar were stored, there was a constant problem with wasps. Wasps made their nests in the gounds, then zoomed in on the sugar: there were swarms of them hovering in the factory. There were jumbo insecticutors at the doors of the factory that went VCHKUFF-VCHKUFF-KUFF-KUFF the whole time. Employees were paid a pound if they found a wasp nest so the workers would spend their lunchtimes careering around the grounds after a wasp to find its nest in the hope of earning a few quid.