Cocks of the walk: ode to Grayson Perry’s urn for bankers

“It is stating the bleeding obvious,” said Perry. “But that’s kind of what needs stating.

Object in foreground by Grayson Perry. The artist has been inspired by the City of London’s bankers and traders to create a huge glazed ceramic penis.

Object in foreground by Grayson Perry. The artist has been inspired by the City of London’s bankers and traders to create a huge glazed ceramic penis.

 

British chancellor George Osborne must be cock-a-hoop that the mark he is making on the world of high art is going hand in hand with the mark he is making on the world of high finance.

Osborne’s head appears on the tip of a penis - or, to be more precise, as these things matter in this litigious world - Osborne’s, head appears on the tip of a crockery penis.

The artwork was fashioned by vase-maker extraordinaire and the best-adjusted person on British television, Grayson Perry, for his final journey into the minds of men.

And what a journey it is.

After tackling cage fighters in north-east England (they are actually cuddly and reflective) and teenage gangs and the police who chase them in Skelmersdale, west Lancashire (tribal and bereft of opportunity) Grayson Perry: All Man ventured into the heart of that bastion of male power”, the City of London.

Anyone who has ever used the word “banker” (it’s a Cockney rhyming thing) as an insult, will be unsurprised by Perry’s findings following his foray into the world of high finance.

Unsurprisingly, the penis looms large in the world of men. In Skelmersdale, Turner-Prize winning Perry used a huge daubing of a cock and balls (admit it, you know what it looks like) on a tapestry that mapped out the young men’s territory amidst the desolation and deprivation of the area.

The penis continues to serve Perry well in the City of London.

There is no room for subtlety in a world where money pays and skyscrapers loom like giant phalluses, marking the territory of the men who work in them.

One of Perry’s “Odes” concerns, ironically, a Grecian urn. It takes the shape of a generous, shiny penis. It is black like a funeral urn and decorated with banknotes and the faces of City bankers and British chancellor Osborne. It is not his most subtle work, Perry admitted.

He may have used a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but Perry has said that he found that the City of London was “shrouded in politeness and gentrification the higher up you go”.

He felt that the Eton-style omerta was yelling out for a piece of art that displayed the gender bias of the corporate world in all its cocky glory.

“The nicely educated, perfectly mannered gentlemen of our financial system were hard-pressed to admit that masculinity even existed, let alone had any bearing on the shape of our noble bankers’ behaviour,” said Perry.

Perry said that making the programme he had become frustrated as interviewee after interviewee insisted that the City had kissed goodbye to its aggressive, arrogant manliness and was embracing its feminine side. Alpha males were now eating quiche, they said.

But, as Perry observed, the pissing contest continues. Among chief executives and chairs of FTSE 100 companies, there are 17 men called John (or Jean) - that is more than the total of seven female bosses.

In Ireland, a recent survey showed that there are now fewer women in the higher ranks of management, with just 14 per cent of Irish companies reporting that they have a female chief executive or head of operations.

Big business is, indeed, a man’s world and it has absolutely no need for a woman or a girl. It does, however, have plenty of need for penis-shaped vases.

London’s skyscrapers may be ever more tumescent and gherkin-like, but they still exude a primitive warning of male potency and dominance. And why not? “It is stating the bleeding obvious,” said Perry. “But that’s kind of what needs stating. For all the obfuscating around it - the claims that their behaviour is just rational thinking - the bleeding obvious is that most of the bankers, particularly at the top, are men.”

“What I come away with I guess is that the higher up the power structure you go, the harder it is to spot masculinity,” said Perry. “If a guy roars past you in a white van and shouts ‘Hello darling, show us ya tits!’, that’s an easy spot, but I think the guys in the higher echelons of power in banking are operating in just as much of a gender-biased way. And their actions actually have much more serious consequences in society in many ways.”

And before anyone says it, Perry did admit that bankers were not necessarily his chosen people. He brought prejudice to his corporate task, he knows he did, but no one he met in this fiscal Hades made him “feel like I was wrong”.

It was the bankers, not the cage fighters or the disenfranchised teenagers who made Perry think they were not for turning.

The City bankers were “simply house-trained behind class, education and wealth”, he noted.

These masters of the universe may be house trained, but they are still in a pissing contest that not everyone can join - and they couldn’t be less bothered. Why change the habits of a very lucrative lifetime?

Chancellor George Osborne seems the perfect candidate to lend his face to Perry’s penis vase. The son of a Baronet who co-founded the hugely successful firm Osborne and Little, this scion of wallpaper magnates might suggest to the family business that they should look no further that Perry for a new design. Some of us might prefer to stick to emulsion, but it will probably sell in the City.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.