Grayson Perry’s New Prints Embody the Life of Essex Everywoman Julie Cope

Grayson Perry’s invented character, Julie Cope, serves as everywoman, and has, for several years, helped him to document and explore the lives of people in Essex, the English county of his birth and youth. Perry, who self-describes as a transvestite, uses bright colors and pseudo-naive line drawings to explore the human experience, and Julie, his muse, has given him a nail on which to hang many of his observations. London’s Paragon Press has recently published a new set of woodblock prints documenting parts of Julie’s life, from quotidian scenes to major milestones.

For several years, Perry has been investigating, documenting, and celebrating the homes and landscape of Essex, the UK county where he was born and grew up. And like many artists exploring personal histories, Perry taps into his own life for inspiration—which spurred the invention of an Essex resident, Julie Cope. Imagined by Perry to touch on local issues and resonate with the community, Julie has a detailed, highly developed life story. This can be seen in a variety of Perry’s artworks, including a site-specific public work, a full-sized temple-like house dedicated to Julie, built in Essex between 2012 and 2015. A new suite of prints by Perry document Julie’s life from youth to middle age, in a series of narrative snapshots, each one representing a new stage or a significant moment.

01 from Six Snapshots of Julie (all 2015) shows her as a child on a country road; she lives in a rural locale, a reflection of Essex during the 1950s and early ’60s. In the distant background an industrial center can be seen, with a chimney belching smoke. Julie is typical of the political era, class, and place in which she was born, and wears a simple purple dress and buckled red shoes—handsome but unassuming. The next image, 02 from Six Snapshots of Julie, shows her in the ’70s, as a young adult: sexy, commanding, with a motorcycle, dressed all in red in a monotone gray world.

Soon, in 03 from Six Snapshots of Julie and 04 from Six Snapshots of Julie, Perry’s protagonist has entered full adulthood. She is married, has children, and has fostered a middle-class life with wine and fine clothing. The latter work can be seen as Julie’s young and adventurous self coexisting with her domesticated adult self. Her features, captured by Perry’s strong use of line, form, and color, are evocative and bright.

In the next Snapshot we see the protagonist in what Perry has described as her second marriage. And finally we see her before the Taj Mahal, traveling the world. Perry has reprised this image as a metaphor in his Essex installation, describing the work as Julie’s Taj Mahal. Like artists such as Sun Mi Ahn and Michael Smith, Perry’s use of an invented character allows him to explore issues important to him and to the world in which he grew up


—Stephen Dillon


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