ECCENTRIC Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry returned to Sunderland to showcase his work inspired by Wearside.
Tapestries based on his last visit to the city go on show from today at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens – the first time the celebrated pieces have been shown outside of London.
Entitled The Adoration of the Cage Fighters, and The Agony in the Car Park, the tapestries featured in Grayson’s Bafta Award-winning documentary All In The Best Possible Taste, which was screened last summer on Channel 4.
Speaking to the Echo about why he chose Sunderland to feature in his cross-platform art project, Grayson, who was dressed as his alter ego Claire, said: “It wasn’t Newcastle for the first reason. I was looking for a working-class place, but didn’t want to go down the cliché route.
“Then the minute we started researching Sunderland, everyone was so positive about the project.”
Grayson was inspired to create tapestries based on Wearside culture after visiting a number of places around the city, including Hepworth and Grandage Social Club, also known as Heppies, in North Hylton Road, having a girls’ night around the town, visiting Shields Road allotments and watching an SAFC match.
Some of the many intricate details in the pieces show a cage fighter with a saveloy dip inscription in his tattoo, a meat draw and fishermen on the banks of Wear. The Wearside tapestries stand alongside four others featured in the documentary inspired by The Cotswolds and Tunbridge Wells, which the artist also visited in a bid to paint a picture of British taste.
“Heppies was such an exotic cultural experience for me. To see the singer Sean and then this woman go on stage and hold his hand, it was like an altar place,” he said.
Grayson added: “I have never been to a city which has so much glamour. When you live in Islington, going out is a different experience. It’s so full of culture vultures, but here these women spend three days getting ready.
“It’s funny because the women do that, but the men look like they’ve just got out of the shower and put a T-shirt on.”
At last night’s preview event, Grayson was reunited with some of the Sunderland characters who feature in the tapestries.
They included Debra Ratcliff, Kat Adamson and Laura Gooch, from Cloud 9 hairdressers in Chester Road, who were among the women who took Grayson for a night on the town.
“We taught Grayson how to drink,” said Laura.
Debra added: “We spent three weeks with Grayson and it was an amazing experience. It’s brilliant to see us immortalised like this in the tapestries.”
Councillor John Kelly, from Sunderland City Council, said: “I think Sunderland is under Grayson’s skin now, he’s so passionate about the work he did. He talked to people here and really listened to them, which shows in these vivid pieces.”