Grayson Perry's workshop-cum-studio in Walthamstow, east London, is a complete mess. Every surface has disappeared under a thick layer of white dust. Great fat clay pots stand around on tables like obese children, gaily coloured shards of aborted experiments lean against the window frames, a tray of what look like small clay pigs (but are, in fact, teddy bears) stands by a firing kiln like scones on baking day. The walls are a riot of objets trouvés - colour-magazine photographs of exotic landscapes, pictures of random tributes to roadside accidents. The floor is covered in some claggy gunge that adheres to your expensive trousers. Wherever you turn, or walk, or sit, or stand, a few thousand molecules of Perry's raw materials cling to you. "Everyone who comes here wears black trousers for some reason," says the artist, beaming with satisfaction. "I've watched dozens of them walking off up the road afterwards with white bottoms ..."
With no trace of creature comforts anywhere, it's the workshop of a very masculine artist, and Perry, when discovered in his work clothes, without his public transvestite plumage, is a very blokeish sort of chap. Though his blond hair is worn long, his manner is far from ditzy. His eyes glitter alarmingly. He resembles, to a disconcerting degree, the homicidal (and long-haired) vault-robber played by the late Alexander Godunov in Die Hard.
He's big in America and Japan these days - a major exhibition of his work opens in Tokyo next April - and tomorrow night he gets the full South Bank Show treatment, in a tribute programme presented by Melvyn Bragg and directed by Robert Bee. I wondered if the programme-makers spent more time on Perry's creations or his frocks. "I haven't seen it - but my wife always says, 'Make sure they don't make it into another bloody film about you dressing up in women's clothes!' And it can be annoying when a purportedly serious journal interviews you and you read the article and it's a sensational piece. It's so tiresome. I really do get fed up with it."
Whoops. Bang go questions three to 13, then. The trouble is, from the moment Perry first appeared on the general public's radar in 2003, when he won the Turner Prize, he has himself been such a piece of work, such an artful construct, it's hard to discount the chap from his labours. Is he, like Gilbert and George, his own finest artwork? "No, that's wrong," says Perry. "I've never said that putting on a dress is art. I've been doing it long before I started making pots."
We talk about the protean nature of success. Since his Turner triumph, the value of Perry's pots has gone through the roof. Art collectors are now prepared to pay £30,000 for the joy of possessing one of his beautiful neo-classical, fat-bellied clay creations with their images of fright, inner turbulence and child abuse. Does that mean he could become a lucrative cottage industry? "I've been making pots for 20 years, but I've always made other things," he says. "I made sculptures long before. I've got this far by doing what I want, and if I started worrying about obligations to a market it would be a horrible life. If tomorrow I woke up and thought, 'I cannot face doing another pot', I wouldn't do it."
But, I say, it's the pots that the art world admires. They represent your success. "That's a misconception," says Perry. "People think the Turner Prize is a switch that, once you've flicked it, suddenly projects you to art stardom. But the Turner is just the point at which the art world brushes up against the mainstream media. Success in the art world is a much slower, subtler thing."
Perry is clearly a little conflicted - almost embarrassed - by fame and success. He tries to dismiss the meretricious renown of prizes and talks about the "value" bestowed by posterity and peer approval. But a minute later he's bitching about the up-and-down reputations of people he doesn't like. "Long-term value depends on a whole history of nudges and winks from art grandees and hype. It might get you so far but - look at someone like Julian Schnabel. Massive in the 1980s, a sort of rock-god superstar. Now everyone's saying, 'Ooh, he's going down the pan ...' and he's not regarded as doing anything great."
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