Richard Slee & Grayson Perry discuss 'Landscape with Hippo'
Richard Slee & Grayson Perry discuss ‘Landscape with Hippo’
GRAYSON PERRY: This is Landscape with Hippo, right?
RICHARD SLEE: Yep
GP: Yep, and when I first saw this series of works, I was kind of, not shocked that’s a bit of a strong word, but I suppose slightly affronted by the fact that you’d stuck stuff on…
RS: Yeah, yeah.
GP: …and, where did that idea come from?
RS: Right it came, it’s a very simple tale. When my daughter was kind of young, kind of 7 or 8 or so we used to go to a, we fell in love with a car boot sale, and I’d give her kind of a pound or something and she’d run off, and she’d come back with a kind of bag full of these…
(points at a small model on the object in question)
…type of things. And then when, you know, when she was a teenager she cleared out her room once and came down with a bin bag full of this stuff and said ‘Dad, I don’t want these any more’, and being a sentimental Dad, I kind of kept them and they were in my studio and I do enjoy them, I do quite like them and somehow it just evolved, I kind of started incorporating them into the work. I didn’t think it was like kind of revolutionary to stick something on, but the rest of like the ceramic world were quite interested because some quite, kind of , experienced makers would come up and say ‘Did you make that little Hippo?’ and I’d say ‘Good God’
GP: (Laughs) Because that’s interesting because for me it’s like, what it says is that it’s sort of ceramics looking out rather than the art world looking in. It’s saying ceramics could be more than ceramics.
RS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s sort of, well for me it’s in a way celebrating an unknown kind of art form you know, particularly because they’re anonymous as well, that’s what I enjoy about them, they’ve been made by somebody in a factory, and very rarely is there even a factory stamp on them, they’re so kind of cheap. One of the kind of things is that they’re kind of, they’re also made in such volumes and painted in such volumes and that’s something I quite enjoy, and on this little piece (points to sculpture) the kind of, the mouth is just one kind of long line.
GP: That’s what I call relaxed fluency, it’s someone that’s done something a million times and they don’t have to, and that has a kind of art to it.
RS: Yeah, yeah, yeah it’s something that kind of, I’ve tried to do and you try all day to do it, to get it you have to do it over and over and over again.
GP: It’s almost one of those defining traits of craft, really, it’s something that you…
RS: Yep, repeat.
GP: …practise and repeat thousands of times.
RS: Yeah, yeah.
GP: And, so would you say in the provenances of the objects from your daughter would say that these are kind of sentimental shrines?
RS: Oh, they’re incredibly sentimental. That’s why I put them in these kind of idealised landscapes, and in some ways that’s why eventually I stopped kind of making them because I kind of perceive that they were becoming sentimentalised, I’d just made too many of them. But they are very much about kind of an isolated dream landscape, kind of in some cases I see them as little bits of England, ‘cos often they’re based on this kind of curving kind of landscapes based on the Sussex Downs, and that kind of, where you get those kind of amazing beautiful curves and you get cows that kind of stand…
GP: Hmm, it’s a very graphic kind of landscape isn’t it, and the shadows of the trees across it and things.
RS: Yeah, yeah.
GP: And do you make each one specifically for the object? Do you start with the object?
RS: It varies, I kind of, I think that in most cases it would start with the object. Let me think, this is kind of, ‘cos I made this quite a while ago so I think in all, probably all cases it’s not a matter of, kind of, find five ideal landscapes and find five objects. Some of them were sourced, so I bought them, they weren’t all from my daughter’s collection.
RS: So kind of this prompted me to go out and kind of buy other kind of things. One raided the charity shops.
GP: Yep. And, what do you think is the, what is your relationship to Kitsch?
RS: I don’t see it as Kitsch. I really don’t. My relationship with Kitsch is kind of, I suppose early on I really enjoyed it and Kitsch had a meaning, but I kind of think recently I just don’t believe in Kitsch.
GP: ‘cos I think Clement Greenberg…
RS: Maybe I’m just too jaded, maybe I’ve seen too much?
GP: ‘cos Clement Greenburg described Kitsch as ‘Art after the soul has left’ it’s like the corpse of Art.
RS: Yeah. I wouldn’t agree with that, I think that kind of these things are kind of slightly soulless, but they obviously carry a lot of meaning for some people.
GP: So do you think that these works are actually about putting the soul back in to these objects?
RS: Yeah putting them, yes yes kind of maybe putting them back into an arena which is kind of, I once showed them at Contemporary Applied Arts in London, I had a show of these, I was in a group show, and there was kind of a group of these and I gave a talk, a gallery talk and I said that I loved the irony that these things only cost 50p and now were on sale for £2,000, and the gallery owner blanched.
(Both Grayson Perry and Richard Slee laugh)
GP: Yeah, I think there’s more to it than that, I mean we’re seeing on this piece, what date would this piece be?
RS: Um, mid-nineties.
GP: So, by this point you’re sort of gearing up your craft skills, it’s a lot more sort of perfection, even the kind of gestural marks on the trees are kind of contrived gestural marks.
RS: Oh yes, yeah yeah yeah, yes on this one here it’s completely contrived because it’s basically, it’s moulded, the marks are from a plaster mould which originally I would have made the marks but they’re manufactured so they’re kind of, yeah these (points at sculpture) are kind of gestural marks buy they’re kind of…
GP: Are they “gestural” marks? (Makes a quotation motion with his hands)
RS: Yeah yeah, they’re not really meant, they’re kind of like fake gestural.
GP: Sort of the like the Lichtenstein abstract expressionist painting.
RS: Yeah yeah, very much so, yeah.
GP: And um, what was I going to ask…
GP: …do you think there’s a historical precedent for this sort of treatment of the found object?
RS: Um, there is kind of, yes and that’s another reason why I kind of I started moving away from the kind of actual found object with a history, but you kind of look at the found object, usually it’s not a new found object, it’s interesting I kind of read an article on Kleinholz, and he kind of says that most of the things he used were kind of second hand because that’s all he could afford.
GP: Yeah (laughs) he’d have bought the new ones if he could have got them.
RS: Yeah, yeah, well he said what the irony were that after five years, the things became kind of antiques, but he said that the original idea that they were worthless, it was junk, real junk.
GP: That’s an important aspect of it for him.
RS: Yeah, yeah.
GP: And I think that’s quite interesting because there are different categories of found objects, I mean there’s the very significant object like I think of something like say a Saint’s bone remounted in a reliquary or something like that, or some precious shell that’s been kind of silver mounted, or then you have the kind that like Kleinholz would use, and then there’s also the thing of if you’ve got something that’s almost incredibly valuable already and then somehow…
GP: …you know, used it in a way.
RS: Yeah. Yes, this is one of the reasons I’ve kind of moved away from these because they were sentimental in their history as well. You know, at some point although they were from a car boot sale, at some point they were treasured by somebody.
GP: And do you think that you’re quite disciplined about that sort of thing, is it…
RS: Oh, I kind of, I hate the romanticism in my work but I can’t avoid it.
GP: You hate the romanticism.
GP: So how do you want people to sort of talk about your work then?
RS: Um, I don’t know. It’s about the way I perceive it, it’ not kind of about other people. I hate it in myself. I kind of think it’s a trap.
GP: But it’s quite interesting that, you know when I first saw your work I thought it was kind of cool and it had a sort of edge of cynicism…
GP: …and then I met you and then when you talk about each piece it quite often has a very autobiographical and kind of chance birth, and I think that entirely reflects my experience of being an artist, it’s that that’s how things happen.
RS: Yep yep.
GP: You know, there’s not, there’s not…
RS: Yep, there’s no great intellect, well the reasoning for these things comes afterwards.
GP: Yep. Exactly. Post rationalisation is the artist’s most valuable intellectual tool.
RS: Yep. Exactly, exactly.
GP: (laughs) And, would there be anything in the V&A collection that this relates to do you think?
RS: I can’t think of anything, it kind of, in the art world it would relate more to painting.
GP: Which particular painter?
RS: I was trying to remember his name, but I couldn’t (laughs) There’s a kind of early 20th Century American painter Grant? Does kind of landscapes…
GP: Oh I know the one’s you mean, yeah.
RS: Slightly aerial…
GP: Is it Grant Wood?
RS: Yeah Grant Wood. And they are incredibly romantic, kind of an idealised view of the American landscape, and it’s quite interesting that they’re kind of mostly aerial view, and this is an aerial view.
RS: I think it relates more to that source, I suppose, yeah it relates a lot to the ornamental.