18 May 2015

Grayson Perry’s A House for Essex

“Living Architecture [LLP] was set up five years ago to revolutionise both architecture and UK holiday rentals. We offer a chance to rent houses for a holiday designed by some of the most talented architects at work today, set in some of the most stunning locations in Britain.” 

A documentary on Channel 4 on 18 May, Grayson Perry’s Dream House, revealed Living Architecture’s latest acquisition, A House for Essex, designed by Perry and FAT Architecture. The Living Architecture webpage is full of useful links and images (below) so there is little need for more here. I thought an article in Dezeen magazine particularly informative for the majority of us who, after all, are unlikely to visit the place. 

The House, although secular, was commissioned in the tradition of wayside and pilgrimage chapels and the exterior was influenced, according to the Independent, by arts and crafts houses, English Baroque architecture and Stave churches – medieval churches made of wood. It is dedicated to a saint:
Perry’s saint is a “secular Essex everywoman,” a fictional character called Julie Cope, for whom he has created a rich back story. “I wanted her biography to reflect Essex and women since the war,” he said. Inside the property is a statue of Julie and four tapestries. They tell the story from her birth in 1953 during the great flood of Canvey Island to her death in 2014, when she was killed by a curry house delivery driver on a scooter.
As to where Perry the artist is taking us, I’m not much wiser. Julie’s sad and violent end is reminiscent of that of Tim Rakewell in the sixth of Perry’s The Vanity of Small Differences tapestries, Lamentation, back in 2012. There was a glimpse at the start of the documentary of some of his preliminary sketches for the House. I would certainly like to see more of his drawings; not all contemporary artists have such a talent - or risk showing it.

At the end of the show Perry, in a new ‘Julie’ transvestite alter ego (poster at top), took a group of real Essex women actually called Julie to see the house. One of them at least seemed quite moved by it, all good telly anyway. Channel 4 is the home of Grand Designs, the first in a genre of TV programmes about building projects, mostly beset by problems with builders, weather and cost over-runs. None such in Grayson Perry’s Dream House, whose builders and architect all seemed to know what they were doing, though there was little about the constructional details – how were all those Julie tiles secured? As far as cost problems are concerned, perhaps Simon Kuper, writing about Art and the billionaire heirs, in the FT Weekend Magazine on May 16/17, shed some light:
When I joined the FT as a graduate trainee in 1994 I was told that someone called Alain de Botton had been offered the same job the year before. But de Botton - whose millionaire father had left him a trust fund reportedly worth £200m – had decided to write books instead. He insists he never touched his dad’s money. Still presumably it made artistic life feel secure.
De Botton, the author of, among other things, The Architecture of Happiness, is the creative director and chairman of Living Architecture.

So far I haven’t seen any comparisons between A House for Essex and the Watts Mortuary Chapel at Compton in Surrey – well worth a visit, as is its custodian, the Watts Gallery.

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