A visit to see an old friend - Julie Cope

It was a great privilege to present the two Julie Cope tapestries by Grayson Perry at New Brewery Arts in 2017. As the curator I had time in the gallery when it was just me and the work, a very private experience, and one that at the time I didn’t ever think I’d ever have the chance to repeat.

In November I opened an email from Living Architecture who manage A House for Essex, a small private house designed by Grayson Perry which contains the Julie Cope tapestries and much more. The email said ‘congratulations’, my name had come out of the draw for a stay in the house for a weekend.

So, three months later, on a very cold, but bright February afternoon my family and I arrived in Wrabness on the coast of the Stour estuary. We drove down the little lane, lined with semi-detached 1930s cottages, and came face to face with A House for Essex, its brass roof gleaming in the sunshine.

The housekeeper gave us the keys and in we went. It's an assault on the senses; colour and light fill the building. It takes the form of a chapel, dedicated to Julie Cope (an Essex everywoman created by Grayson Perry); half contains the living spaces, a vestry; the other half the chapel, with the two tapestries hung either side, and ceramics, mirrors and images on almost every surface. Once again, I found myself in a room with the works I remembered so well from our exhibition – it was like seeing an old friend.

Julie Cope A House for Essex Grayson Perry

A House for Essex is completely different from an exhibition. At the New Brewery Arts exhibition, stanchions and guides ensured the works were safe; in A House for Essex we could sit back on the sofas and explore the tapestries for hours. After the initial shock and awe of the house, we settled in to life surrounded by Grayson Perry’s work. We chatted over a coffee, sitting under the tapestries, we watched a kid’s DVD, surrounded by powerful ceramics, and art. I had a goodnight cuddle with my daughter whilst being watched by a life-size ceramic portrait of Julie Cope as a mother goddess.

The house is a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, a completely encompassing work of artistic concept. Its architecture is unlike any building I know; it’s not a pastiche of a historical period, it is unapologetically itself. Everything from a tiled hall floor to the main light fitting says something about Julie.

We left early on Monday morning, a light dusting of snow had appeared overnight. While I’ll return to Wrabness I’m sure, I doubt if I’ll ever have the opportunity to stay in A House for Essex ever again. Leaving, I felt I was not simply leaving a weekend holiday home, I was saying goodbye to Julie Cope, somebody I’d got to know very well during my weekend at Wrabness. 

A House for Essex Grayson Perry