The Life of Julie Cope

15 March 2024 to 12 June 2024 The Arc

Grayson Perry In its Familiarity, Golden, 2015 Tapestry Courtesy the artist, Paragon | Contemporary Editions Ltd and Victoria Miro. © Grayson Perry

Grayson Perry´s Essex House Tapestries

This March, two exquisite, large-scale tapestries by one of the UK´s leading visual artists will be on display for the first time in Hampshire. Grayson Perry´s Essex House Tapestries - The Life of Julie Cope (2015), on loan from the Crafts Council, opens at The Arc this spring and will give visitors a chance to see one of the touchstones in the extraordinary career of the Essex-born and Portsmouth-trained artist (b.1960).

The tapestries tell a story in two parts, that of Julie Cope - a fictional creation of Perry´s. Illustrating key events in the heroine´s journey, the first charts Julie´s early years from birth to marriage, while the second details her later years, another marriage and tragic accident that leads to her death. Both tapestries are packed full of cultural and architectural details, conveyed in bright colours and an extravagant style that is emblematic of Perry´s work.

In A Perfect Match we see baby Julie escaping the Canvey Island floods of 1953 with her parents, leaving houses, cars and telegraph poles submerged in water. The boat carries Julie to her teenage years with the brutalist buildings of Basildon as her new backdrop. Here she meets her first husband Dave, but the deceptive picture-perfect family portrait in the centre reveals troubling signs of future strife, and outside in the margins are disturbing images such as a discarded doll and a creeping cat.

On to In Its Familiarity, Golden and Julie has taken control of her life, attending university in Colchester and relocating to Maldon with her children. The tapestry introduces her second husband Rob, and in juxtaposition to the first, the couple appear profoundly happy. They share a warm embrace in the centre, and blissfully greet each other with the whole family in tow. But this positivity cruelly ends in a shocking way, with the prostrate body of Julie underneath a motorbike. It is this incident, in Perry´s fictional story, that prompts the work to be created - a shrine to an ´ordinary life´ of a woman, that with the benefit of hindsight, might appear more extraordinary as the world changes around us. 

With plenty of opportunity for investigation into the imagery viewers will be able to take in both tapestries together, spotting the impending signs of unhappiness that lurk in the first tapestry, and the sad resolutions in the second. 

Alongside the tapestries will be a specially commissioned audio read by Perry himself. The Ballad of Julie Cope is a 3,000-word narrative that illuminates Julie’s hopes and fears as she journeys through life.

Further Information: Grayson Perry: Essex House Tapestries