Acquired from the above by David Teiger in 2005
Titled Rumpleforeskin, the subject of the present work is unequivocally sex. Layers of transfer pictures of coquettish Asian women are overlaid with kitschy patterns of flowers, birds, and butterflies through which Perry has interspersed discarded condoms and even a baby’s dummy. Alongside these delicate golden outlines, and almost camouflaged within the web of filigree ornament, is another composition of, we might construe, the titular foreskin. This distinctly unheroic phallus is juxtaposed against more virile expressions of masculine sexual prowess: masturbating imps are shown brandishing erect penises from which robust streams of ejaculate snake across the pot’s surface. Like the best of Perry’s output, this work is deeply mischievous and loaded with tongue-in-cheek humour; its title – a lewd pun on the classic Brothers Grimm fairytale Rumpelstiltskin – underlines this point. As Perry has explained: “I like words, and titles are very important to me. A title is an entrance into what the work is about, as well as having the potential for humour and mischief. More often than not I decide on titles after the work is finished, when I’ll brainstorm a list and choose the one that hits it on the head” (Grayson Perry quoted in: Jacky Klein, Grayson Perry, London 2005, p. 108).
As pithily summated by its title, this pot blends the realms of childhood and sexuality. Alongside images of masturbation, nude women, penises and condoms are photographs of die-cast toy cars lined up and proudly presented alongside an image of Perry himself, dressed in girlish pink and sat in what looks to be a children’s bedroom maternally cradling a toy baby. That one of the devil characters – this time female – carries a foetus in her swollen belly further delivers this point. It is an uneasy mixture of innocence and iniquity that broaches taboo and plays to one of secular society’s most vivid fears. Perry, however, is greatly invested in the theories of psychoanalysis, in which the root of sexuality is understood as being borne of childhood experience. As a transvestite, which in psychological terms means that Perry derives erotic satisfaction from dressing up in women’s clothes, the artist was struck by a great epiphany when, through psychotherapy, he realised that this very specific facet of his sexuality took him “back to the absolute distilled essence of femininity that [he] had been reaching out for as a child” (Ibid., p. 113). In the present work fairytales and harmless flowery, flouncy and girly patterns are melded with outrageous erotic fantasy. All of this, however, is to be taken with a pinch of salt; as Perry asserts: “I like the idea that there are difference forces tugging on you when you’re looking at a pot like this: am I meant to be seeing it as a sublime piece of work, is it a joke, is there a historical reference, or is it some sort of intellectual exercise? Humour for me is a very creative force. It’s instinctive, like sex, I think. Something either turns you on or it doesn’t; something either makes you laugh or it doesn’t. It’s about supplying two electrodes and hoping that a spark will be triggered between them” (Ibid.). Executed with an astonishing level of decorative splendour and technical brilliance, Rumpleforeskin delivers an enthralling mix of humour, sexuality, gender politics and fairytale fantasy.
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