Comparison of Contemporary British Textile Works
by Angharad Graham
FND Art & Design
The two artworks being evaluated in the following text are ‘After, After, After The Monarch of The Glen‘, 2012, by Peter Blake, Peter Saville, Jonathan Cleaver and Naomi Robertson and ‘The Upper Class at Bay‘, 2012, by Grayson Perry.
Both of these works were influenced by paintings from over a hundred years before.
‘The Upper Class at Bay‘ is the fifth work from a sequence of six entitled ‘The Vanity of Small Differences‘, 2012 by Grayson Perry. The tapestries tell the story of the fictional character Tim Rakewell, modelled on the protagonist of William Hogarth’s own series of eight paintings ‘A Rake’s Progress’, 1732-3, oil on canvas.
Peter Blake copied ‘The Monarch of The Glen‘, 1851 by Sir Edwin Landseer, which was in turn appropriated by Peter Saville and transformed into a contemporary, minimalist image. ‘After, After, After The Monarch of The Glen‘ is a tapestry version of this.
Whilst Perry reflects the narrative of Hogarth in his work, it appears to be an inversion. Hogarth’s character goes from son of a wealthy merchant to an inmate at Bedlam asylum; Perry’s character makes the journey from a working class upbringing, to life as an upper-middle class entrepreneur. Despite the superficial differences both characters meet a similarly disastrous fate through their own vanity and recklessness.
Blake and Saville almost directly appropriated Landseer’s painting, retaining its original composition and colours.
The tapestry may be regarded as a satisfactory product of the cycle of appropriation for the following reasons: firstly, it was commissioned by Blake and Saville to mark the centenary of Dovecot Studios, a world renowned producer of hand-woven tapestries; the stag is a recurring theme in wall hangings throughout history, regarded as a symbol of hunting and therefore deeply connected with British identity; lastly, weaving is also a medium with long standing historical and cultural associations. The choice of subject matter could thus be interpreted as significant, especially in this medium.
By contrast to the traditional labour intensive method of weaving, ‘The Upper Class at Bay‘ was created with digital technology for speed. The artist stated that he chose the medium to reflect the custom of tapestries in ancestral, upper class homes, reinforced by the subject matter.
Whereas in the first the method of production may be regarded as an essential element, celebrating a traditional craft and its perpetuation, in the second it would appear that the content was priority and, despite drawing on the historical associations of the medium to emphasise further meaning, whether the resulting artwork was made by machine or man was of comparatively little relevance.
The two pieces of work, despite their similar roots, followed very different paths. The development of ‘After…‘ has been purely visual and leaves the viewer to their own interpretation. However in ‘The Upper Class at Bay‘ there is a distinct message that Perry is aiming to convey. Ultimately both serve as powerful yet distinct examples of the continuing relevance of textiles in contemporary art.
 Charlotte Philby, (2012). Weave got style: From Marc Quinn to Tracey Emin, tapestry is the art world’s latest love. The Independent [online] Available at: < http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/weave-got-style-from-marc-quinn-to-tracey-emin-tapestry-is-the-art-world-s-latest-love-7893381.html> [Accessed: 8th November 2015]
 Susan Mansfield, (2012) Dovecot Studios: Weaving a path to success. The Scotsman [online] Available at: <http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/arts/visual-arts/dovecot-studios-weaving-a-path-to-success-1-2405877> [Accessed: 8th November 2015]
 Channel 4 (2012), Grayson Perry Q&A and The Vanity of Small Differences [Online] Available via: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/in-the-best-possible-taste-grayson-perry/articles/all/ [Accessed: 8th November 2015]
“The Upper Class at Bay” (2012), Grayson Perry.
Wool, cotton, acrylic, polyester and silk tapestry, 200 x 400 cm, Victoria Miro Gallery.
“After, After, After Monarch of The Glen by Sir Edwin Landseer by Sir Peter Blake by Peter Saville Dovecot 2012” (2012), Peter Blake, Peter Saville, woven by Jonathan Cleaver and Naomi Robertson.
Tapestry [unknown materials], Edition of 5 [location unknown].
 [Image online] Available at: <https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4f/Monarch_of_the_Glen.jpg> [Accessed: 8th November 2015]