Julie Cope’s Grand Tour, a pair of large-scale tapestries by Grayson Perry, winner of the Turner Prize in 2003, were acquired by the Crafts Council for its national collection of contemporary craft in 2016 and have been touring the country ever since.
Julie Cope is a fictional character created by Grayson Perry – an Essex everywoman whose story he has told through the two tapestries and extended ballad presented in the exhibition. The Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015) illustrate the key events in the heroine’s journey from her birth during the Canvey Island floods of 1953 to her untimely death in a tragic accident on a Colchester street. Rich in cultural and architectural details, the tapestries contain a social history of Essex and modern Britain that everyone can relate to.
The tapestries are shown alongside a graphic installation, and specially commissioned audio recording of The Ballad of Julie Cope, a 3,000 word narrative written and read by Perry himself that illuminates Julie’s hopes and fears as she journeys through life.
These artworks represent, in Perry’s words, ‘the trials, tribulations, celebrations and mistakes of an average life’. Historically, large-scale tapestry provided insulation for grand domestic interiors; Perry has juxtaposed its associations of status, wealth and heritage with the current concerns of class, social aspiration and taste. To write Julie’s biography, he looked to the English ballad and folktale tradition, narrating a life that conveys the beauty, vibrancy and contradictions of the ordinary individual.
The narrative originated in Perry’s A House for Essex (2012–15) – his most ambitious project to date. Designed by Perry with FAT architects for Living Architecture, and located on the Stour Estuary at Wrabness, this residential secular chapel is dedicated to Julie Cope and serves as the artist’s tribute to the people with whom he grew up.