OW: And I know it well. [video clip starts] I think it was the first Slee that I bought for the Museum. I think we got a couple of pieces earlier that came in. I remember going down into the craft shop in the Museum and seeing this there and just laughing, sitting there so expectantly with its little feet as if it was about to scurry off. And so unlike so much other stuff, not earnest, not self-important, none of those things. But it had some kind of quality to it, and I think it's taken me a while to work out what those qualities are. It is beautifully made, he makes things with great care and precision, his handling of clay is very nice and the colours are very luscious. It's not at all cheap and shiny the way it might first look. This is not one of his great masterpieces, but I think it has a lot of the qualities of work that was to come. I think that now his work has developed on, he's one of the great potters in the studio pottery movement. [video clip ends]
For me it combines so many different strands of interest that end up in amazing and wonderful objects. Here it's to do with what I see in it, and what makes it interesting to me is a whole pedigree behind this of his historic pots where the first step back is obviously 1950s knick knack ornaments that you have on your little tiled stove in your semi-detached house somewhere, but it goes further back than that to Victorian vases and ornaments and then the whole grand 18th century mania for vases and things of that kind. And he is very respectful of those traditions, but he's a very playful artist as well. And it's dealing with the whole area of... you know... I think one of the things he said at some time is just the importance of ornament or ornaments in people's lives and that how much more important those have been than conventional great art has ever been. So a lot of his later work which digs more even more deeply into that crossover of popular culture, cultural significance of ceramic history and all sorts of things, I think is particularly magical.
MP: Were you aware of his work a long time before you managed to acquire one?
OW: Not really. He had been brought to our attention as somebody who did a ??? of... It was Ian Bennett in his publications that had drawn our attention, and I think the first things we got were from then. But I think in a way it's his most recent work over the last four or five years, since the big Toby Jug figures and series, that for me have suddenly shown where a lot of these earlier things - which are quite difficult to place and to understand - were heading and in a sense validate some of these things retrospectively. I've called him the great wizard of studio pottery in one of my writings, which is a title he particularly loves, I think. And he's used it in his e-mail address just recently.
MP: Did getting to know and meet Richard Slee change your perception of his work?
OW: Not terribly, actually. I mean he's a very nice chap. He's rather dry in what he says and I think it's been more a conviction that's grown with the work, and I'm always stunned and rendered speechless when people describe it as being trivial and cheap and all those sort of things, that it doesn't embody the values that they see in pottery, the earliest brown glaze and certain other traditions. But yes, I was talking about something different.
MP: From a personal point of view, is Richard Slee the sort of work that you own yourself, or you'd like to own?
OW: I'd like to own more, but it's the only time, I think, he's shown his last show a couple of years back at the Marsden Gallery, where I've wished I was a Saatchi brother and I want to go in and say, 'I'll take the show.' I just thought it was such an extraordinary range of work. And I did acquire a piece for that, paid for over months. I'm delighted to see that he is getting a bigger audience. I think it's been quite difficult for him to establish that, his serious credentials as a potter with something worth saying, something worth looking at and where it's not just a jokey façade.
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