Turner prize winning artist Grayson Perry is known for his bizarre crossdressing as his alter ego ‘Claire’ and his even more bizarre, but highly acclaimed art! Not many people know about his kickass motorbike journey where he toured halfway across Europe on a pink madly decorated motorbike carrying his teddybear and childhood hero, Alan Measles, in a glass shrine on the back. A glass shrine? Yes Perry had seen the popemobile and knew his teddybear deserved nothing less than the pope…..
Well this is Perry’s crazy motorbike-teddybear-travel-story…..
Grayson Perry’s pink motorbike teddy bear pilgrimage
Sometimes referred to as ‘troubled’ and ’eccentric’ Perry’s ‘take’ on the world is certainly different than anyone and his take on motorcycle touring is certainly unlike any other.
Grayson spent a troubled childhood in suburban Essex creating a fantasy life where he fought off the invading Germans, under the command of his teddy bear Alan Measles. In Perry’s childhood fantasy Measles was a plucky wartime Resistance leader who became his hero, a sort of personal God and the embodiment of everything that was good about masculinity.
In those early formative years of his life Alan Measles (the teddybear remember?) was a key figure: “He was the benign dictator of my fantasy world, and in some ways, the carrier of my manhood. He fought off the Germans in many a battle in my imagination“
Well you get the point ….Measles was and is very important in Perry’s life.
Now almost 50 years after first receiving the bear, Perry decided to pay homage to his life long friend with a reconciliation roadtrip to Germany. It was the Germans that teddy Measels fought off all those years back afterall. Now it was time to befriend the people from the land of Bratwurst and Bier! A teddybear pilgrimage to Germany for which a special transport mode was needed…
Grayson Perry the Motorcyclist
Perry, who has never owned a car, has had a lifelong love of motorcycles and is reportedly a daily user of his currently owned Harley and KTM.
“I’ve never owned a car. I love motorbikes. I’ve got a Harley, which is perfect for summer when you want to go slow, pose and enjoy the scenery, and a KTM, which is brilliant for getting from A to B fast when it’s wet and cold and you want to feel safe. In 1989 my wife Philippa bought me a set of motorbike leathers – the first thing I ever had made for me. I designed them to be like the Cerne Abbas giant . I used to wear them to art openings so I could go there on the bike but still feel dressed up…. Motorbikes aren’t manly. Look at mine. If a bloke has to prove his machismo with a motorbike, then he isn’t very macho.”
So for Perry a ‘non-macho’ motorbike was the logical means of transportation for his German roadtrip in homage to his teddybear . But how to transport Mister Measles?
A Pink Harley-Davidson Knucklehead with Shrine
Perry went to work and created a true piece of motorbike art: a psychedlic pink motorbike outfitted with a glass shrine on the back for teddy Measles!
The bike named the ‘Kenilworth AM1’ is actually a custom built Harley-Davidson Knucklehead The bike was sketched out by Perry, and built by ‘chopper shop’ Battistini’s UK who, curiously, don’t claim credit for their work online, but do link to one of Perry’s later exhibits of the bike in their blog
According to Perry the bike is a cross between the, “Mexican Day of the Dead meets Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”
It is quite likely Perry got inpsired by this pink motorbike trip – carrying a wooden tall-ship on the back – across Vietnam….
The teddybear’s shrine on the back was an homage to the pope’s glass pope mobile. Measles has a God like position in Perry’s life afterall.
The ‘Kenilworth AM1’ is therefore Perry’s two-wheeled ‘popemobile’, a performance-art prop created to carry Alan Measles in grand comfort to Germany, in a glass-sided reliquary mounted prominently on the back of his custom Harley. The custom Harley is built and painted up much like Perry’s trademark ‘drag’ outfits, using highly saturated colors and shapes reminiscent of ‘Outsider’ art. The elongated pink-and-blue petrol tank is painted either side with ‘humility’ and ‘patience’, which Perry notes are the “opposite of rocker lifestyle texts.”
Ten Days of Alan: Grayson Perry’s motorbike trip
The pink bike’s inaugural voyage to Germany, aptly named “Ten Days of Alan”, took them across Europe on a mission of reconciliation with their old enemies. And the eccentric Perry dressed for the occasion…
With a matched riding suit of bright yellow boots, an outrageous lavender Peter-Pan-collar jumpsuit, and spring-green helmet, Perry’s riding ensemble creates a motorcycling image which borrows nothing from anyone or anything…there’s simply nobody else on the road that would dare to even touch an outfit like that! While custom shops, tattoo parlors, and clothing outlets are busy selling ‘individuality’, Perry has taken a brave and lonely path, to be an individual.
Ten Days of Alan route
The tour itself saw Perry, accompanied by his teddy bear, riding his Kenilworth AM1 motorcycle from his home town of Chelmsford via Colmar in France, the Nurburgring racing track and the religious important and iconic church in Wies (where a peasant saw tears in the eyes of a flagellated Christ figure in 1738). Then they visited Mad King Ludwig’s fantastically Rococo Schloss Neuschwanstein where much of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was filmed and which had served as an inspiration to the bike. Then they went on to the Steiff Teddy bear factory in Giengen (as a request from Measles). The roadtrip finally ends in Backnang, Chelmsford’s twin town. There Perry hands a goodwill message from the people of Chelmsford to a somewhat bemused local Burgermeister.
Bizarrely the account of the trip was broadcast on radio, which strangely enhanced the experience. With no visual cues it was left to the listener to imagine the reaction to Perry’s arrival and focus on his very personal explanation of the ride. As they go, Grayson and Alan the teddy reflect on the nature of art and pilgrimage, shared memories of childhood and the speed of their motorbike on Tyrolean mountain passes.
Thank you Grayson Perry, do it again soon! Ride safe, and cuddle your kickass teddy with pride!
Find the Radio report about his kickasstrip here at the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/grayson-perry-pink-motorbike
Grayson Perry and the tomb of the unknown craftsmen
The pink motorbike and shrine to his teddy bear from childhood – Alan Measles – on the back would later serve as a centerpiece in some of Perry’s art exhibitions.
When in 2011 he had been given a gift by the British Museum “the opportunity to delve into the museum’s enormous collection and create an exhibition from the artefacts that caught his imagination” the pink bike came in handy. For two years, Perry rooted around the basement, before appearing with this selection, curated alongside his own work – old pieces and the new inspired by what he found.
The bike sat at the entrance of the exhibition and its point was simple: all sorts of objects can inspire passion and pilgrimage. And the bike indeed did exactly that during Perry’s kickass teddybear pilgrimage to Germany!
Sources: The Vintagent