Grayson Perry - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, April 15, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Overview

    'The lidded amphora of Me Wanking Off (1996) stands as a tour de force of his technical abilities and decorative accomplishments, all played out on a surface in which perversion is piled on perversion.' —Andrew Wilson

    In Me Wanking Off, the British artist Grayson Perry exhibits various facets of a single life, vested with plural identities. As elucidated by the work’s title, and more specifically the term ‘me’, this life is his own, fantasised, imagined, and real. In certain areas, the artist is shown going about usual activities — walking on the street, standing; in others, he is portrayed enacting scenes of sexual nature, with expressions of both pain and pleasure. The work's varied surface, covered with what seems to be a continuous narrative, is interspersed with vignettes of a former life (or an imaginary realm): miniature images of childhood toys, a fairytale house, a fishing scene atop a calm, red lake. Occupying the height of one of the vase’s sides, a young female figure sticks her tongue out, chained through a number of her orifices, her eyes wide open and a single tear running down her right lid. At the top of the vessel, a gilded monkey rises, his mouth open as if screaming — perhaps in a last moment of jubilation following the act of self-pleasure. Attesting to its importance, Me Wanking Off was included in Perry’s seminal exhibition Guerrilla Tactics, which took place at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and the Barbican Art Gallery, London, in 2002. For this show, the artist was awarded the Turner Prize in 2003.

  • It's All In The Detail

  • Contemporary Ceramics

    'If you call your pot art you’re being pretentious. If you call your shark art you’re being bold and philosophical. A lot of my work has always had a guerilla tactic, a stealth tactic. I want to make something that lives with the eye as a beautiful piece of art, but on closer inspection a polemic or an ideology will come out of it.'
    —Grayson Perry

    Perry first began making pottery in the early 1980s. Exploiting the medium’s association with craft, domesticity and decoration, the artist selected the vase as his artistic vehicle of choice, referencing a wealth of historic archetypes tied to the vessel, and subverting these with his own contemporary meanderings. Though critics of the contemporary art world typically condemned crafts and decorative arts as a lesser art form, Perry balked against this pervasive disdain and reinstated conceptual dynamism to the medium. Like the Ancient Greeks, Perry employed the allegorical power emanated by ceramics to elevate the commonplace dramas of modern life. Technically sophisticated, each of his vases takes months to complete; ‘my pots always carry with them the intellectual baggage of the history of ceramics, its archaeology, geography and value system’, the artist once said. ‘But up close, the content of my work can confound all that’.1 In Me Wanking Off, the glistening lustre and detailed ornamentation of the vase are mere distractions to mystify the artist’s satirical discourse; subtle outlines deliver a seemingly graceful surface, whilst concurrently revealing Perry’s wry humour.


    Detail of present work.
    Left: Detail of present work.
    Right: Attic, bilingual, eye-cup with black-figure interior depicting running minotaur, c.515 BC, Greek ceramic. Image: Bridgeman Images.


    Crossing Time


    Taking inspiration from traditional Chinese vases and ancient Egyptian pottery, Perry’s ceramics additionally compound a number of contemporary symbols that range from trashy magazine imagery to fast-food menus. This eclectic mix furthermore incorporates intimate references culled from his own life — images of Perry as ‘Claire’ (his female alter-ego) as well as his childhood teddy bear ‘Alan Measles’. A contemporary of the Young British Artists, Perry has resisted any attempts at conventional categorisation and instead built an iconography and style of his own. As the British art historian Jacky Klein poignantly summarised: ‘He [Perry] descends not from the obvious forebears of contemporary art such as Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol, but from a rather different line: that of the great satirists. […] His quirky and literary wit echoes that of Aubrey Beardsley and Wyndham Lewis, while his linear drawing style and predilection for social comment, erotica and the grotesque are reminiscent of the work of Otto Dix, George Grosz and the Expressionists whose art flourished in the smoky nightclubs of 1920s Berlin’.2

  • Grayson Perry at Work


    In this episode of Tate Shots, Grayson Perry discusses his ceramics practice in his studio space.



    1 Grayson Perry, quoted in Jacky Klein, Grayson Perry, London, 2009, p. 242.

    2 Jacky Klein, Grayson Perry, London, 2009, p. 10.

    • Provenance

      Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1996

    • Exhibited

      London, Barbican Art Gallery, Grayson Perry: Guerrilla Tactics, 21 September - 2 November 2002

    • Literature

      Grayson Perry: Guerrilla Tactics, exh. cat. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2002, p. 88 (detail illustrated)


Me Wanking Off

stamped with the artist's monogram and titled 'Me wanking off' lower edge
glazed earthenware, in 2 parts
78 x 39 cm (30 3/4 x 15 3/8 in.)
Executed in 1996.

Full Cataloguing

£120,000 - 180,000 

Sold for £126,000

Contact Specialist


Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

+ 44 20 7318 4060


Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe

+ 44 20 7318 4099


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 April 2021