My teddy bear presided over my imagination like a God
My teddy bear, Alan Measles, is the first thing I’d grab after my wife and child (and possibly my cat). He’s as old as I am and incredibly significant. Alan was the benign dictator of my imaginary world from about the age of four up to 14. He was a hegemonic masculine character: a kind of idealised father figure, leader and possibly God. I didn’t get on with my stepfather, so Alan Measles stepped up to the plate. He was part of my general drive to self-sufficiency. About 15 years ago, I was doing a show in Japan and I wanted to do a piece about religion. I needed a God I actually believed in, so I chose him. Since then I’ve put him in dozens of artworks. I think I was probably more careless with him as a kid. Once, I left him too near the fire. One of his ears got burned and a new one had to be knitted on. Now he sits on a golden throne in my bedroom. He’s a celebrity in his own right. People send him gifts.
A broken motorbike part reminds me of romance
Motorbikes are a huge part of my identity, if not my life. I’ve got four at the moment. This is the broken head of a valve stem of a BMW R90 from 1979. When I first met my wife at pottery evening classes in 1987, she’d never been on the back of a motorbike before. I was trying to impress her. I thought I’d take her for a ride one evening after class. I drove her up the M11 on the BMW and the engine seized at about 80 miles an hour, so I whipped in the clutch and rolled to the hard shoulder. The valve had hit the piston and snapped off. We ended up pushing the motorbike about five miles back down the M11 in the pouring rain. My wife still regards that as one of the most romantic evenings of our lives. When I rebuilt the engine I kept the valve head as a souvenir.
This bike is perfect for riding in a dress
I’ve always loved cycling and a few years ago I wanted to find the perfect bike for riding around town in a dress. I found this one online and it has transformed my attitude to London. It’s a proper old Dutch bike with a covered chain, big basket and comfy saddle. It weighs a ton. I go out a lot in town and I can get pretty much anywhere in half an hour on this bike. I never have to worry about getting a cab on the way home. There’s nothing nicer than cycling through central London at night. It’s one of my great pleasures. Sometimes I go out, have a drink and just pedal around town for maybe two hours like a sort of rolling flâneur. I’ve cycled in full Victorian dress with a bonnet and everything. I’m not that aerodynamic but when you’ve had a drink or two you can get a little bit enthusiastic. There is no sweeter moment than passing a MAMIL [Middle Aged Man in Lycra] on a carbon-fibre road bike when you’re riding a Dutch bike in a dress.
My potter’s stamp shows that I’m a mischief-maker
When I first started pottery in 1983, the teacher taught us how to make a little stamp out of terracotta so that we could mark our work. At first I used a variety of marks, but in about 1992 I boiled it down to one: W above an anchor symbol. You will find it on everything I do. When I won the Turner prize I put a little crown above it. It shows that I don’t take myself too seriously, and that I like to play with tradition. I try to make conservatism radical in some way. In the arts, there’s an assumption that you’re progressive. You don’t see much Tory art. I’m a mischief-maker. I like a bit of a laugh and there’s no better way to wind up the arts establishment than by posing as a conservative.
I made this coat to wield magical power
Some years ago I wanted to do a show at the Met in New York. I designed this coat as a piece of suggestive magic. It’s made out of very expensive silk brocade that I had embroidered with maps of the Met, flowers and other symbols. I thought that if I wore this coat to the meetings at the Met, it would show my commitment and my magical hold over the environment. It didn’t work. In 2011 I did the show at the British Museum instead. It was one of my proudest achievements and a turning point in my career. I still wear the coat every so often and I always get compliments. It’s a very unusual garment.
Sketch books are dense records of my creative process
Sketch books are the most talismanic objects in my artistic life. I carry them around with me most of the time. They’re a very detailed record of what goes through my head – part research, part diary. I usually take more than a year to fill one. By that time they’re incredibly dense documents. They have this layered, palimpsest quality. One thing about sketchbooks is that you can’t really display them well. I quite like that. As you become more successful, you get what I call Picasso Napkin Syndrome, where every little mark you make becomes a licence to print money. A sketch book is difficult to commodify so it means that you’re not self-consciously making an asset class.
As told to Arthur House
“Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years” is published in January. The accompanying exhibition appears at the Holburne Museum, Bath, from Jan 24th-May 24th, before going to York and Norwich