Arts Review - The Life of Julie Cope, by Grayson Perry at Firstsite

Our arts reviewer, Deborah Suzanne, attended the packed opening night of this coup of an exhibition, and was enchanted by its colour and vibrancy.

Julie Cope is an Essex everywoman and this new exhibition at Firstsite is a tribute to the people that Grayson Perry grew up with. Perry's use ofcolour, textiles and the spoken word brings vibrancy, adventure and beauty to an ordinary life, and explores the character and qualities of Essex.

The narrative that runs through this exhibit about the fictional Julie Cope and her trials and tribulations is exquisite and not without a sense of gentle humour. But its beauty is held in the calmness of Perry’s voice as it echoes through the exhibit, narrating Julie's tale.

Julie lived an ordinary life, born on Canvey Island during the floods and dying an untimely death at 61 years of age, on Colchester High Street, thanks to a takeaway curry delivery driver. Finding sadness, happiness and all the emotions in between, there is a connection with Julie Cope that everyone will be able to relate to.

The beautiful tapestries adorn the walls of Firstsite, and as I attended opening night, I was overwhelmed by their richness. In a people-packed gallery, nothing outshone them. The colours and threads imbue Julie's life with meaning and purpose, subverting the usual use of tapestries as a way to tell tales of significant historical importance. Their attention to detail, both architecturally and historically, with dashes of pop culture, adds a powerful dimension of reality to an otherwise fictional tale. 

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Sketchbooks, drawings and ceramics fill the space of the gallery and along with the tapestries, present a powerful juxtaposition to the ordinariness of life, whilst being a great social commentary on status and heritage.

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The Ballad of Julie Cope, related by Perry in the exhibition, records her life and death and is a testament to Perry’s research on folktales and English ballads. I cannot help but admire the use of words as a fine art form and Perry reads them like a true bard.

This is a genius of an exhibit and one of Firstsite's best to date. It is exciting and multi layered. You can sit listening to the soothing sound of Perry’s voice, peruse the sketchbooks or spend hours exploring the tapestries and noticing references such as the image of Elton John or a Duran Duran album cover. Whatever you choose to do, please go see it before it closes on Sunday 18 February 2018, and marvel at how extraordinary any of our so-called ‘average’ lives can be.