Since winning the Turner Prize in 2003, and his recent triumphant exhibition at the centre of the UK art establishment, The British Museum, Grayson Perry seems doomed to become “a national treasure”. “They’re preparing the embroidered slippers,” he remarks. The first trade publication of this frenetic graphic novel, originally issued as a private publication in 1992, may well cause some recoil among his more unquestioning enthusiasts. Perry has never been afraid to confront his inner drives, and when this book first appeared, he wrote:
“When I was 12 or 13 I drew a series of short comic strip adventures featuring an idealized male hero. When puberty hit me, these boys’ own tales became increasingly kinky, involving much cross-dressing and bondage. Sadly, these reports from my young subconscious were lost in the upheavals of adolescence. Twenty years later I drew Cycle of Violence while facing up to becoming a father myself and once again my imagination became an open wound.”
Review by Tessa Ditner
It is probably not a good idea to read Grayson Perry’s book at bedtime. I made that mistake and had a nightmare about getting stabbed. My fault, I was expecting a fluffy art novel about pottery, social class and perhaps a poke at Lance Armstrong. In my defence, I was fresh from watching 4OD’s documentary In the best possible taste [www.channel4.com/programmes/in-the-best-possible-taste-grayson-perry].
As Perry says on the tin, this graphic novel is: “a striking encounter with my younger, angrier self.” Cycle of Violence is the story of a cyclist whose abuse at the hands of his mother as a child, leads him to violent acts of sadistic murder against women, as an adult. The psychological term ‘cycle of violence’ refers to violent behaviour which is repeated in a cyclical pattern within a relationship, and sometimes increases with each episode.
Perry explained to The Guardian that he now feels nostalgic “for the ease with which I seem to mine the seam of my dark side.” That ease came from being at an unsettling time in his life, when he was becoming a father and thinking about his own childhood. His wife Philippa Perry [http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2010/apr/18/philippa-parry-couch-fiction-interview] was training to be a therapist, and part of the topsy-turvy is mocking the jargon of psychotherapy. Unsurprisingly, when Perry handed the artwork to his therapist, in the hope that it would help with their sessions, the therapist was, as Perry puts it “accepting it as if I had given him a bag of dog shit.”
Apart from the shocking violence depicted in this graphic novel, there is no doubt that for Grayson Perry fans, it holds a raw and exciting appeal. You get a glimpse of the world inside a younger Perry’s head, a world where the main social drives are brands and sex. You gleam the psychological stress of a boy who took refuge in wearing a girl’s dress. Perry’s happy-go-lucky cross-dressing today, might seem fabulous and easy, but this story reminds us that self-acceptance comes after years of working out how to be successful, manly and virile, while also accepting a penchant for frilliness.
What I loved about this graphic novel was seeing the raw, pre-cursor to Perry’s current style. His un-prettified ordinary characters, scribbled truths written out in words across bodies and clothing and of course, his overarching cheekiness. Art websites are already clamoring to sell the book as Perry’s latest work, even though he told The Guardian “I find the sexual violence in the book uncomfortable to look at now. I used such imagery a lot in my work at the time and was probably inured to it.” But no one is listening.
We are being dazzled instead with brands: ‘Turner Prize winner 2003!’ ‘The British Museum!’ ‘Transvestite Potter Grayson Perry!’ When did we turn into Grayson Perry characters?
By Tessa Ditner www.tessaditner.com
Cycle of Violence is a graphic novel by Grayson Perry, published by Atlas Press at £16.50. 144 pages, 246 x 174 mm, casebound & shrinkwrapped. Available from most booksellers, including amazon.