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Grayson Perry: ‘If you think I'm a pervert or just a charming eccentric, fine!’

November 20th, 2014
08:56 AM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

Grayson Perry doesn’t much care what you think of him.

“I'm a transvestite, I enjoy dressing up, and I'm an artist as well – and I've found it a kind of useful part of my identity to use it,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Wednesday.

“Do you have to understand something? I mean, that's quite interesting. I do it for myself, and what you think is up to you! If you think I'm a pervert or just a charming eccentric, fine!” he said with a laugh.

The celebrated British artist is taking on a topic close to his heart – identity – as his latest project. He became famous, and won the renowned Turner Prize, for his shocking ceramic vases depicting subjects like death and child abuse.

“I'm always interested in the things that are right in front of us all the time in mundane, everyday life, but we don't think about.”

Identity, he said, is “something that crops up, particularly in political discussions, quite a lot – but I'm never quite sure what people mean by it.”

We often think of it as a “fixed thing,” but it’s much more like a “performance over time.”

Perry is perhaps unique, especially for a contemporary artist, in being willing to lucidly and without reservation analyze his own work.

“One of the things I found around identity was people want certainty. I mean, that's the attraction of religion, of course.”

“That's why all these ISIS guys – you know, whatever you think of what they're up to, they're certain. And that's always a terribly dangerous thing.”

Much of the problem, he said, comes down to young men.

“If you think about the global economic crisis – over-adrenalized young men. Over-adrenalized young men seem to cause most problems. I've been one myself, I know! I'm talking from experience here!” – he said with a hearty laugh – “And I know that a lot of my problems came from being an over-adrenalized young man.”

Perry, never one to shy away from taking a difficult topic head-on, recently wrote an article titled “The rise and fall of Default Man” for the New Statesman.

The Default Man, he wrote, is “white, middle-class, heterosexual” and “usually middle-aged.”

“They dominate the upper echelons of our society, imposing, unconsciously or otherwise, their values and preferences on the rest of the population.”

“I wanted to look at them like an ethnic minority almost,” he told Amanpour, “and kind of really pinprick what it is about these strange people.”

“Because they act as if they're normal – you know, that's always a dangerous word, ‘normal.’ Because they like to think they're individuals; they got there on their own merit. But of course they got there because of their tribal identity.”

Perry does not shy away from the fact that he and the Default Man have many overlaps, but his proud and ostentatious cross-dressing no doubt shifts his circle in the Venn diagram slightly to the side.

“I was accused when I won the Turner Prizes of dressing up just for the publicity. But I've been doing it since I was twelve! And by then I was forty-three!”

“Yes, it gives me a brand, and in the crowded cultural landscape of the contemporary art world, it's good to have a brand.”

Some might be surprised to learn, then, that Perry is happily married with children.

But as a proportion, he said, homosexuality is only as prevalent among transvestites as it is among men as a whole.

“The rest of them are heterosexual and probably married. And so it's not a surprise to me – a transvestite who's married. Most of them are – and have children, and deal with it.”

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