This is Grayson Perry’s first major solo exhibition in Scotland. The Julie Cope of the title is a fictional ‘every woman’ from Essex, and the exhibition explores the story of her life through four large tapestries.
The Dovecot is a challenging space for this exhibition. The low ceilings in their downstairs gallery mean the tapestries have been hung at an angle. This makes it difficult to see some of the finer details and, given the relatively small and busy space, also makes it difficult to step back from the works. Small touchscreens enable you to explore the tapestries in more depth, with captions allowing you to discover more about Essex, Julie Cope’s life, cultural references, technical details and Grayson Perry himself. This is a great addition to the exhibition, but the screens are very small and situated in a place that doesn’t encourage you to linger. The narrative of Julie’s life is audible within the whole gallery, so you might be told the tale of Julie’s death as you’re reading about her birth, giving you little choice about the order in which you learn her story.
Still, every detail in the tapestry is there for a reason, and you could spend hours exploring these works given the opportunity. The tapestries were designed for Perry’s A House for Essex, a ‘Taj Mahal’ for Julie Cope, and would be fantastic to see within this context. A quick search online reveals that within the house the tapestries can be viewed from both above and below. If you are lucky enough to win a ballot, and be able to afford the accommodation, you can spend several days and nights immersed in Perry’s imaginings of the life of Julie May Cope.
The second part of the exhibition examines some of the challenges involved in creating A House for Essex. There are samples of the ceramics used for the exterior of the house and a short film explaining the production process. For those interested in weaving, there is detailed explanation of the Jacquard techniques Perry uses in his work. The difference between the methods used by Perry and those employed at the Dovecot, a working tapestry studio, are also explored.
The work clearly has a strong association with Essex and is arguably not very relatable if you have no connection to the place. At times it can be difficult to decide whether to interpret the work as an affectionate portrait or a mocking caricature of the Essex everywoman. However, Perry’s creations are captivating, and it is great to finally see a solo exhibition of his work in Scotland.
Julie Cope’s Grand Tour: The Story of a Life by Grayson Perry is at Dovecot Studios
Until 02 November
Book tickets here
This exhibition is held as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival.
Image: In Its Familiarity, Golden, Grayson Perry, 2015. Crafts Council Collection: 2016.19. Purchase supported by Art Fund (with a contribution from The Wolfson Foundation) and a donation from Maylis and James Grand. Courtesy the Artist, Paragon Press, and Victoria Miro, London. © Grayson Perry