SUNDERLAND is set to find out what Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry thinks of its taste and class.
The eccentric artist, who is famed for his controversial ceramic vases and cross-dressing, visited the city last summer with a Channel 4 film crew to meet and interview Mackems.
His aim was to create a tapestry and documentary about our heritage and how the class journey we take shapes the way we define ourselves through what we wear and buy, and how we live.
Called All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry, the end product will be broadcast on Channel 4 tomorrow, at 10pm.
During his visit, Grayson went out on the town dressed as a transvestite, visited the Shields Road allotments, watched a performance of The Futureheads, soaked up the atmosphere of a Wear/Tyne derby and met celebrity hairdresser Neville Ramsay.
Grayson said: “We chose Sunderland because it has a proud working-class tradition where the people are not afraid to say they are working class.
“There is a lot of stuff about the region that is perhaps a bit patronising but I want to see beneath that and what the people here think is taste in their own world. I love over-turning stereotypes.”
Grayson, who won the Turner Prize in 2003, also visited the middle classes of Tunbridge Wells and the upper classes of the Cotswolds to create tapestries and a documentary of each of the areas.
The result is a series of six imposing tapestries, two for each area, called The Vanity of Small Differences – his personal but panoramic take on the taste of 21st century Britain.
Documentaries of his visit to the Cotswolds and Tunbridge Wells will be shown over the next two weeks.
Grayson says it was on a visit to Hepworth and Grandage Social Club, known as Heppies, in North Hylton Road, that he had an epiphany which inspired his tapestries, planting the seed of the big themes of class, taste and social mobility.
He also says he also discovered “ancestral echoes” of his own upbringing during his time spent on Wearside while confronting head-on the snobbery that surrounds many people’s view of working-class taste.
Grayson invited the Mackems he met, including Neville Ramsay, of Ramsay & Johnson hair salon, to an unveiling of the Sunderland tapestries in London.
Neville, who has styled hair for stars such as Sting and Jodie Kidd, said: “As soon as you walked into the room you could tell which ones the Sunderland tapestries were.
“You could see the terraced house, the allotments and the coal mines.
“The attention to detail and the colours are so vivid. It’s like a story in pictures of our history and working class background.
“For the documentary, he interviewed me about being a working-class lad done good. He also interviewed my mum Edith, who’s 88 and lives in Carley Hill about bringing up kids in post-war Sunderland.”