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EC: Yes, it is a pot I suppose, but I wouldn't think of it as a pot. It's a container but it's actually not a pot. It would be very difficult to think, it does have a function in containing, and it has actually got this cornucopic feeling. And when you look at it from the side you begin to get an idea of the rather rococo splendour of the actual piece. And then this huge form at the front which is vaguely reminiscent, vaguely like a cornucopia.
Richard Slee is probably the leader of the post-modern potters. He calls on any process or technique that he thinks is appropriate, and he calls on any imagery which he thinks is appropriate. And he's particularly interested in the imagery of Staffordshire and Staffordshire ornaments from the 18th and 19th centuries. Here it's difficult at first to see how he's got where he's got because you're being asked to look at an object which really doesn't make any sense at all. You're being asked to decode quite a complicated object which, when you first see it, looks not very much.
But when you think about how it's made... All of it is hand modelled so that you've got this horn, if you like, which is hand modelled, with this beautiful tail which is very smooth. And it's the colour of the sea, it's the colour of the sky, and then you've got these very roughly modelled legs or feet supporting it, and in some sense this just looks like an ordinary prop and it's all roughly modelled so that you know it's almost like it doesn't belong. It's like, this is like [it's] temporary, holding this up. When you look at the front feet they're like feet, they're like the feet of an animal. So suddenly the whole thing has got this animalistic quality to it with the little feet sticking out at the side, although they're modelled very roughly. And he's drawn attention to that by making you aware that these are yellow and this is blue, this is this pale blue. So that again it's like emphasizing the difference, and the unity comes together in the fact that they're actually joined on.
The inside is white, it's pure, it's full of promise, it's full of hope, it's full of light, if you like. But it's an object which doesn't appear to have any sense at all, until you start to think about the bits and pieces within it. The cornucopia is an ancient symbol of fullness, of a source of knowledge, a source of generosity, its very ancient meaning in that sense that it actually is full of everything you want. This is a bit like that but the front, of course, is vaguely sexual. And the whole thing is a bit sexual and a bit one thing and the other. And so in the end you begin to get more out of it than you might think when you first see it, this curious object.
What is this object about? And of course it's about ourselves. You know it's what we want to bring to it. It's about how much we're prepared to put into it to start to get something out of it. I think one of the things that people like about ceramics is that what you see is what you get. When you see a nice pot, when you see a nice Michael Cardew cider jar or a Bernard Leach pot, [or a] Staite-Murray pot, that's what you get. Okay there's complex histories gone into making that pot, but you don't need to know those histories to enjoy it. [video clip starts] Yes, you can enjoy it as a decorative object and it's got a slightly fairground attractiveness to it, but suddenly you've got to do a bit more work if you're going to get more out of it. And this, of course, is one of the things that people then say, but then that's becoming too arty. It's becoming too much like Fine Art, there's too much concept there, it's become too conceptual. We've got to start working at it to get out of what is a craft, if you like, something else. And of course that is true, you do have to work at it, you've got to start pulling it to pieces a bit to get more out of it, but with Richard Slee's work it's invariably worth it. What you get in the end is a very beautiful object, [an] intriguing object, a fascinating, beautifully made object and the skill is always there. And then you start to get other meanings, in terms of our own life, [video clip ends] in terms of our own understanding, where we are today, our relationship with history, our relationship with ourselves. And Richard Slee is witty, the whole thing about it is an element of wit. And it's meant to raise a smile rather than remind you of meditative qualities. It's not that at all. It's a bit of fun really.