NB: I can remember when I was first introduced to Richard Slee, and that was at an exhibition that was at the Oriel Gallery in Cardiff when I was a student. I think it must have been about 1991 or 1992, and it was a show called 'The Abstract Vessel' which had some of Richard Slee's pieces in. I suppose it was an immediate love/hate relationship with the pieces. I started questioning the reasons why I didn't like them, and then I liked them, if you know what I mean.
They'd got so many connotations for some of the objects I grew up with as a child. My grandmother worked on various factories in Stoke and from each factory she worked at, she collected the wares from the factory. She worked at Carlton, and worked at Bilton, to name but a few. But just some of the styles of some of those early Carlton-ware pieces, the kind of novelty factor, I draw an immediate parallel to. Shore and Copestake, I don't know whether she worked there, but she'd got a lot of the stuff. Sylvac, I don't know whether you know it: green Yorkshire terriers, the pink rabbits and stuff like that. Really quirky stuff. So that's got the same kind of appeal to some of these Richard Slee.
[There's] the fact that it references the history of ceramics as well - again, go back to some of the cornucopias that were produced, [such as] William Greatbatch from the 18th century, some of those things. They're really ornate, but all cornucopias as well. So I like that fact that he's reinventing [a] kind of tradition. Well, he does it in everything that he does. But part of what attracts me, there's a period of work which I'm really kind of drawn to, and I suppose it was the period when he started to incorporate more contrast, the evidence of the kind of hand, and this clinical mass-produced feel, this industrial element to it. And there's a series of flowers and flower pieces which I've got a lot of affection for, and that period of his making is the kind of strong period for me.
[video clip starts] I love the fact that it's animated, and there's this characteristic crutch which I think he's included in a lot of his pieces. It's almost as a support, and the fact that it's a symbol of opulence, a cornucopia, and the fact that it's stripped right back, there's nothing there. You see all these 18th century cornucopias with all the fruit and heavily adorned, [and] I think that's what attracts me to it as well. It's just a handlable object. I've never seen it in the flesh, but you just want to pick it up. The base is great as well. I'd love to subvert some of these objects you know. You just see them from a different perspective and they mean something else don't they? [video clip ends]
But yes, I suppose [with] reference to that period of industrial ceramics, you get all these wonderful quirky objects, like the green Yorkshire terrier, and the very happy objects, but then when you reflect on the conditions they were probably made in - dipping them into buckets of lead and stuff - [it was] not so happy for the people who work[ed] there at the time. But there's a lovely sense of clayness to these things, the mark of the maker. But there's also that stripping back of that object as well. And a lot of his objects now haven't got this characteristic cack-handed handling of clay, they're just very slick and taken right back now, aren't they? But they've still got the same kind of appeal on a different level, yes.
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