Grayson Perry to explore identity in new Channel 4 Arts series

Turner Prize-winning artist and BAFTA Award-winning presenter Grayson Perry is filming a new series and an ambitious special for Channel 4, both to be broadcast later this year.

In Who Are You? (w/t) (3 x 60) Grayson turns his attention to portraiture and identity.

In a culture saturated with selfies, the moment when an artist tries to cut through the noise and nail us in a single image - an image intended to define us for posterity - has taken on a new significance. In each of these films, Grayson will spend time with Britons facing a moment in their lives when they need to define who they are and then distil his impressions of each of them into a portrait. Some of the sitters have become miniatures, some large tapestries, some statues and, of course, some pots, but all of the works will be shown alongside portraits of the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery in a special display timed to accompany transmission.

In the course of each film, viewers will get to know each sitter along with Grayson, and in the climactic scene of each we'll see them making their way past kings, queens, generals and politicians to get their first sight of themselves through Grayson's eyes.

Among the sitters are a transgender teenager, Loyalist marchers in Northern Ireland, former Cabinet minster Chris Huhne (who sat for Grayson the day he was released from prison), deaf parents, a Muslim convert, a couple living with Alzheimers, X-Factor and Celebrity Big Brother contestant Rylan Clark. Grayson will pull together the threads of his investigation into British identity to produce a final, panoramic group portrait modelled on the Victorian painter William Powell Frith's epic 'Derby Day'.

Grayson's Great Design (w/t - 1 x 60) charts the creation of Grayson's biggest, riskiest and most ambitious work of art yet: an extraordinary secular chapel near Harwich. Grayson was born and brought up in the county and this intricate, provocative building is his tribute to Essex Women in all their glory and his challenge to the reductive myth of the 'Essex Girl'. After speaking to a cross section of women, and gaining a true understanding of the Essex everywoman, he has dedicated the chapel to a mythical Essex woman called 'Julie.’

The design for the house is a visual one-off, handcrafted down to the finest detail in a rich, dense and extravagant style that gives two fingers to the puritanical modernist architectural establishment. There are 400 relief tiles depicting Julie, four roof sculptures, and a series of tapestries celebrating her life. As Grayson designs it, we'll see him seeking inspiration from single mums in Dagenham, hairdressers in Colchester and the landscape and history of Essex. But we'll also see him struggling to bring the enormous project in on time and on budget, and having to deal with a mixture of marvel and bafflement from local residents. The climax will be a pilgrimage to the site led by Grayson himself.

Both series follow the BAFTA Award-winning All In the Best Possible Taste (Channel 4, 2012), which explored taste and class in Britain and used Grayson's discoveries as inspiration for a work of art: The Vanity of Small Differences - a narrative series of six tapestries, which was recently acquired for the nation.

The commissioning editors on the series are Tabitha Jackson and John Hay. Hay said: "Grayson’s great skill isn't just as an artist, but as artist-anthropologist. His warmth, curiosity and mischievous intelligence, as well as his ability to spot things others wouldn't notice and to see the ordinary afresh make him the perfect TV presenter, and these programmes promise to be every bit as enlightening, entertaining and powerful as his last.”

Produced by Joe Evans and directed by Neil Crombie, Swan Films.

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