Intellect, Rigour and Frocks - Sue Lawley on Reith Lecturer Grayson Perry

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    Editor’s Note: The first of The Reith Lectures, delivered by Grayson Perry and chaired by Sue Lawley, will be available from Tuesday 15th October.

    Grayson Perry, this year’s Reith Lecturer on Radio 4, is extraordinarily good fun to work with. Clever, quick, and charming, he’s a natural stand-up artist and wowed our audiences in London, Liverpool, and Derry~Londonderry (Central St. Martins still to come). At his first lecture at the Tate Modern, there’s wild applause when he walks on stage: mind you, he IS a sight to behold.

     

    They wait for him at stage doors and gently mob him when we move from hotel to taxi. I’ve become his minder, I discover, politely refusing more photographs and pulling the car door shut as Grayson arranges his skirt on the back seat.

    He is, after all - as I told the audience on our first night - the first cross-dressing lecturer in the 65 year history of the Reith’s. ‘As far as you know’ was his riposte. Cue uproarious laughter.

     

    Grayson Perry discusses the language of the art world.

    He’s also, in my experience of the last dozen Reith lecturers, one of the most painstaking experts to take on the task. It’s a ‘demanding gig’ as Daniel Barenboim (Reith Lecturer 2006) commented.

    To deliver an original thesis which develops across four lectures, have them subjected to cross-questioning from audiences of hundreds and broadcast to millions beyond that, takes intellectual rigour, a deal of wisdom and (always a bonus) a dollop of wit. Grayson has these qualities in spades.

    I first met him back in June over a cup of builders’ in his Islington kitchen. He was already clear about what he wanted to achieve through his lectures – to explain the contemporary art world to the wider audience, give them the tools to judge it for themselves and licence to dismiss as rubbish some of its worst excesses. Like the ‘telephone artist’ who rings up the workshop and says "Here’s an idea – make it six feet high and colour it blue. See you at the opening".

    He is one of the few lecturers to meet the agreed deadlines for delivery of the text and the only one, to my knowledge, to ask for a full rehearsal. The man is a pro.

    He’s also the first lecturer I’ve known not to read from a script. Using bullet points on a laptop, he’s free to extrapolate when the mood takes him. And it does. This is radio – tho’ we do our best to paint a picture for listeners of this extraordinary figure pacing up and down, his turquoise sequinned eyelids catching the lights as he goes, you can’t beat seeing it for real. At the first lecture, Grayson wore a multi-coloured trapeze line frock, sea-green tights and huge pale orange patent shoes tied with satin bows. He uses a hot comb to train his hair in curves over his ears and the Cupid's bow mouth is drawn thin and strong in red. Mr Perry does nothing by halves. 

     

    His wife, Philippa, and daughter, Flo (who’s reading for a chemistry Masters), came to the first lecture. Both strong women and entertaining in their own right, the bond between the three of them is obviously strong.

    At 54, Grayson is one of the most famous artists in the UK: he won a BAFTA for his Channel 4 series on taste and class, and the tapestries which resulted from those programmes formed the centrepiece of the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition.

    I went home from that first meeting at his kitchen table saying that the man is a natural intellectual. And so it's proved. He's never written much before but his lectures (he calls them 'talks') are original and thought-provoking. He ticks all three boxes of the BBC mission statement: ‘to educate inform and entertain’.

    Lord Reith, that stern Scottish Presbyterian, might have been shocked by the frocks but he would surely have approved of the industry and application of the man wearing them.

    Listen to Grayson's Lecture from 15th of October

    Listen to previous Reith Lectures

    Grayson Perry on Start The Week

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    Comments

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    • Comment number 7. Posted by FleetJackHobbs

      on 29 Oct 2013 17:46

      I began this Reith series muttering, "Bring back Edgar Wind," under my breath. Now, having listened to the three lectures so far broadcast, I'm delighted by Mr Perry's fresh look at the current art scene: What a gift he has for an illuminating phrase - and what learning he keeps in a cupboard at the back of his head. - Mr Perry! - You can certainly come to dinner!

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    • Comment number 6. Posted by Ravihansi Palliyaguruge

      on 29 Oct 2013 17:08

      Iwant to raise my voice against the unfair things happening to the women in Sri Lanka and specially my neighboring country India and all the countries (Middle-East & Africa as well) where 1000's of abuses happens almost every hour.pls tell me the appropriate blog i need to comment on this

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    • Comment number 5. Posted by NewView

      on 28 Oct 2013 10:17

      A poem inspired by lecture two.

      Art?

      Form.
      Drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramic,
      Print, architecture, audio, graphic,
      Light, photography, installation,
      Film, performance, contextualisation.

      Function.
      Landscape, emotion, portrait, relief,
      Ideology, mood, expression, belief,
      Entertainment, politics, stimulation,
      Comment, symbolism, deconstruction.

      Fame.
      Artist, public, critic, collector,
      Dealer, gallery, fashion, curator,
      Money, value, investor, infamy,
      Media, trend, scarcity, celebrity.

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    • Comment number 4. Posted by NewView

      on 26 Oct 2013 13:54

      A short poem inspired by lecture one.

      Colours

      Colours in life,
      Shade, tone, hue,
      Denoting emotions,
      Shaping our view.

      The human palette,
      Each feeling described,
      Little subjective,
      Colours prescribed.

      Red spells danger,
      Grey is depression,
      Orange loves fun,
      Purple obsession.

      Colours are uniform,
      Each time the same,
      Tradition the arbiter,
      Same old game.

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    • Comment number 3. Posted by creativesarahv

      on 25 Oct 2013 14:35

      Just would like Grayson to know that a dear friend of mine who is dying has been listening to the lectures and when I visited her this week she was fired with enthusiasm and ideas and talking about continuing to be creative for as long as she has got. She was even going to do something to a memory quilt she has made her sister inspired by the talk!
      She is thrilled to know that Grayson has a needlefelted necklace made by me and delights in telling people !

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    • Comment number 2. Posted by Atlantic

      on 24 Oct 2013 12:17

      Brilliant. Well worth listening to.

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    • Comment number 1. Posted by McGillivrayfamily

      on 20 Oct 2013 22:40

      No comments? What an interesting and well presented lecture. I am no expert on art but I appreciate a good public speaker and I learned, laughed and came away with things to ponder on. A great job.

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