The Adoration of the Cage Fighters
Two cage fighters kneel before the main figure offering membership to the working class just as four ladies on the right are trying to persuade the figure to ‘come out for a drink on a Friday night’. The grandmother in the centre will surely stay at home and look after the baby. The baby is symbolic of Tom Rakewell, illustrated in the series of paintings by William Hogarth called A Rake’s Progress. For these tapestries, Grayson Perry has changed the name to Tim Rakewell to modernise the character, which appears in the other six works as a progression, such as the influence of Hogarth; his paintings just as relevant today as when they were created in 1733.
The second tapestry in relevance to the working class taste is called The Agony in the Car Park inspired by a singer Perry met in a night club in Sunderland. The words on the tapestry read: ‘Ship building bound this town together like a religion’, referring to the working class traditional occupations of the area and showing the story of class mobility. On the right of the tapestry, boy racers have ‘Mating Call’ stamped on their cars to symbolise the reasoning behind these young men’s choices and the rituals that ‘get the girls.’ This scene is a lot more emotionally charged and so refers to the emotional structures that form taste. The composition of the piece is associated with two religious paintings; The Agony in the Garden by Giovanni Bellini, and the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald, which both have a main figure centred in the painting with smaller figures surrounding or gathering round. Furthermore, the viewpoint is mostly similar to The Agony in the Garden as the viewer’s perspective is very high up, showing the surrounding landscape.
The Agony in the Carpark
The Agony in the Garden, Giovanni Bellini, 1465
Isenheim Altarpiece, Matthias Grunewald, 1512-16
Stereotyping the classes, general views of the public consider the middle classes to have more aspiration than the working classes, opting for branded and more corporate clothing, Land Rovers, dinner parties etc. to subtly give off signals of richness including the cleanliness and perfection of houses. As Grayson Perry considers himself to be middle class, he wonders, is there an upper middle class and a lower middle class? Are the middle classes separated into tribes? Does the more money you have mean the more choices you can make which ultimately mean better taste? But what is better taste? The middle class are considered self- made people, but also people who are not certain of their place in society, being somewhere in between. This lost identity of the middle classes causes angst and agony in looking effortless, feeling a sense of not belonging and therefore wanting to belong.
Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close is the third tapestry in the series, showing snippets of taste in the middle classes. The two figures in the middle represent Tim Rakewell and his girlfriend (in referral to Tom Rakewell in Hogarth’s A Rate’s Progress) and mirror Adam and Eve in another religious painting Adam and Eve Expelled from Paradise, painted by Masaccio in 1424-25. The split between the two scenes illustrates the lack of belonging in the middle classes; tiny details from Grayson Perry’s research in Tunbridge Wells are noticed also, the William Morris wallpaper, the Land Rover, the golf, the homemade cupcakes and the obsessive cleaning rituals of ‘perfect housewives.’ The chalice in the painting symbolises the middle classes and can be seen in the twinned middle class piece, The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal.
In search of the traditional upper class taste, Perry visits the Cotswolds, filled with mansions and stately homes, where people are stuck in their aristocratic ways, describing themselves as good quality, understated, appropriate and flawless, ‘the posher the person, the less they have to prove.’ There is a spell that is cast over everyone by the upper class, the intimidation felt and the ‘perfection’ that seems to radiate from them. Clothing is deemed more a uniform than a way to express personality, the upper classes have a stronger family tree and so the upkeep of a family’s reputation than be more important than finding one’s own person. Ancestors portraits hang in hallways, clothes are handed down through generations from mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers, still worn today; very English and very historical. But when faced with the pressure of carrying on tradition, whether this may be inheriting property or taking over a family business, does this make it harder to develop a personal taste? Does upper class taste mean not having any taste at all and just carrying on with what has always been done?
Lord Bath, or Alexander Thynn, the 7th marquess of Bath and owner of Longleat House in Somerset, broke out of these traditions, and transformed one wing of the house into a blank space where he could redesign and paint anything and anywhere he wanted, filling it quickly with his own art, very much with a Bohemian taste. He commented: ‘My space, my canvas.’ which is a powerful statement to show the contrast with the lack of change in upper classes. They are an endangered tribe; they are fighting for survival in an age where the modern world is slowly destroying a traditionalist culture.
The Upper Class at Bay
#Lamentation is the final scene that completes the series, in which Tim Rakewell has brought himself a new car and in flaunting this to his new wife, races down the street, only to end up crunched into a lamp post, flying through the windscreen and ending dying in the gutter in a tragic turn of events. Accessories scattered around him illustrate the celebrity lifestyle, being featured in the latest ‘Hello’ magazine, his iPhone smashed up, his blonde bombshell wife standing distraught in the road. The hash tag at the beginning of the title refers to the audience of people in the scene, tweeting pictures and status updates of the celebrity crash, oblivious to the feelings of dying Tim Rakewell. The composition mirrors A Lamentation by Rogier Van Der Velden, the religious undertones contrast with the false, money-grabbing life of Tim Rakewell in his success through the classes to the top.