Grayson Perry discusses his impressions of Richard Slee
[Grayson Perry] I first met Richard, oh I’m trying to think, it must have been the early 90s or maybe it was even earlier than that. It was either at Camberwell when I gave a talk there, Camberwell Art College, or it might have been with his mum and dad, waiting outside an art gallery in Carlisle, cause I think that’s where he comes from isn’t it?... and yeah it’s waiting for this exhibition to open and I was wearing a beige womens’ trouser suit at the time. But I can’t remember and I can remember thinking, cause I knew of him through exhibitions and things and his work is so sort of smooth and I can remember thinking, ooh he’s very craggy compared to his work.
[Grayson Perry] The first piece I can remember would have been one from the sort of Toby Jug Punch series. Probably that I can … that would have been in maybe around the time of Raw and The Cooked or something at the Barbican, think he was in that. And I remember thinking it was very “arch” his work, you know slyly “arch”, and restrained, you know it was very much in keeping with perhaps the best of sort of British conceptual art in that each small sort of gesture was very thought about and multi-faceted. I think that’s the thing about his work is that he doesn’t you know he says a lot with a little quite often at his best. When I look at his work I think of Jeff Koons, first actually somehow. But whether it’s coming sort of from a different direction but the…there’s something of the cynical in it that is, also reminds me of Jeff Koons and a kind of dry laugh and slightly spooky. And I also think of Walt Disney and maybe things like seaside post cards and it’s a very British sensibility as well, it has a kind of rosy cheeked, sort of belly sort of laugh in it as well…and a…sort of … an embracing of…a knowing embrace of the vulgar that goes back to pop art as well I s’pose.
I think you know it’s interesting he’s probably the ceramicist who is making the best attempt at the transition into the fine art milieu and managing it. Cause I always thought that he was the one who from very early on that was the one who had the best chance of kind of being taken seriously by the contemporary art world. Because it is a real handicap coming, being defined as a craftsperson, whether that’s how you define yourself. Being aware that you are being defined as a craftsperson is a handicap because intent is so much a part of what being a contemporary artist is, you know what you intend something to be and how you are seen and the standpoint and the language that you use, the kind of acknowledgement of the values if you like of contemporary art that craftspeople very often don’t take into account, they expect the art world because it can embrace anything they expect it to embrace them unchanged. And it doesn’t work like that it’s a two way relationship and if a practitioner wants to move towards contemporary art then they have to start speaking contemporary art language and embracing the values and directing their work at a contemporary art audience. And I think Richard has always done that to a certain extent all the way through his work you know it has many parallels perhaps with the sort of what they called the new British sculpture of the early 80s. I’m sort of maybe thinking of people like Tony Cragg or Richard Wentworth, people like that in that it has that sort of punning conceptualism in it at some level in it and also I sort of, a sort of spareness, a neatness of delivery that I think you know that reflects the values of his age. I mean like we’re all trapped terribly in our age you know and sometimes look at my own drawing and go oh 1980s, no, but you know we have to live with that.
[Grayson Perry] My relationship with ceramics is that I always embrace the traditional and so therefore to stick things on was seen, a terrible crime against that and I think in many ways that might be where Richard has to be careful, is because, it’s a sign of a ceramicist looking out trying to expand what ceramics is rather than an artist necessarily embracing, you know coming from the outside saying what is ceramics? And investigating, which is what I’ve always done. Whereas if you start kind of trying to expand ceramics into sculpture then you’re still a ceramicist trying to make sculpture, rather than a sculptor trying to make ceramics. And I think that’s, there’s a whole, it’s a nit-picky, snobby little tautology but I think it is there. You know whenever I saw pots with feathers or beads or bits of leather thronging on it, I thought ooh no that’s so, it made it even more like ceramics, you know because it was so desperate not to be just ceramics, and, so I think that might be one of the danger things Richard might have to think about when he is venturing out onto the ocean of the art world as opposed to the lagoon of the ceramics world.
[Grayson Perry] I think Richard is a lone voice in some ways because he has done something that is very difficult in any art form and that is have a distinctive voice. I think, you know, various art forms are hard or easy to become competent at, but the hardest thing of all is to have a distinctive voice. I think he has definitely got that and that is an essential aspect of your work if you’re going to succeed in the art world. And I don’t think he’s alone in wanting to kind of be…to break free from… it’s almost a definition of the 21st century craftsperson is the sort of discomfort with being a craftsperson. And sometimes I want to shake them and say “for God’s sake, what’s wrong with being a craftsperson doing traditional work, just get on with it and do it well, cause they’re still good”. Richard definitely has his own position and it’s the mental position, it’s not kind of necessarily linked to his material or the content of his work, which you know is not necessarily unique, it’s his kind of mental, his poetry of his, of the way he deals with it. You know the sort of, the sets of circumstances, personal, the sort of kitsch, the sort of look of the ceramics, the sort of references all the time that are very sparingly touched upon lightly and elegantly that gives him that strong voice and that will be his best asset. Good luck Richard.