TH: [video clip starts] I'm a great fan of Richard Slee's and this is far from disappointing to see it really close and be able to touch it, although it's not a very tactile piece. His work, I always feel, would work really well domestically, in a domestic environment. It's part of a tradition of English ornament that's quite over the top, and I'm thinking of the kind of ceramics you'd pick up at a fairground, when you've been shooting some targets with a little rifle. [video clip ends] And yet at the same time it taps into the great history of ornament, the cornucopias of... what is it? A goat's horn overflowing with good things. And I think he made quite a few of these cornucopia in a of cheery, happy period of his life. But he's got this amazing way with the iconic bits of ornament, like he's done wonderful crowns and orbs and there's the cornucopia. There are lots of prime objects, things like anvils, which take you out back to the classical world somehow, and obviously to make an anvil out of ceramic is thoroughly contradictory and mad really. But it seems to me he's the ... and this was made back in, what would you say, 19 ...
TH: 1983, yes. People expect such a lot from art works nowadays.They're meant to be quite immense, [to] embody all kinds of theoretical discussions about consumption and national identity and there are things like Michael Lander's decision to destroy all his possessions on huge conveyor belts. And not many ceramics actually seem able to join in that new conceptual area that we have today. Also lots of artists are terribly interested in domestic contexts. I think they've all read the same books, they've all read ??? essay on the uncanny and they're interested in ordinary ordinariness. And then something eerie and uncanny popping out of the woodwork. I think they've all read Marx's great passage in 'Das Kapitol' on fetishisation of objects and how objects that he always echoes for it have a weird life of their own, you know. So they read all this stuff and they're making this stuff, but not many ceramicists are able to join in.
Richard Slee seems really able to do so, because there's something slightly uncanny about this object. And he's not doing what a great many extremely gifted ceramicists are doing even now as we speak, which is carrying forward the kind of early modern project, reuniting abstract sculpture and abstract painting in wonderful vessel forms. Nor has he gone down the road of figurative ceramics, whether elegaic like Phil Eglin's or savage and satirical like Steve Dixon. He's in a class of his own with his strange, odd, highly referential pieces. I saw one recently that he'd made specially for an odd conceptual art project where artists were invited to look at a sale catalogue of a big country house sale that took place after the war, and they had to choose a lot and then make an object that was inspired by it. So all these artists went off and did different things, most of them pretty feeble I thought, but Richard had read an account of a little pastel portrait of a girl in a wood and he made this wonderful ceramic version of it which looked extraordinary. I mean, these are so ???, because they do operate very well in museum settings, but also in some kind of mad, domestic setting. And so in some ways he's in a sort of class of his own. I'm trying to think of a ceramicist like him, and yet there's nothing aceramic about it, I'm slightly complaining that Hans Coper's a bit aceramic, but this is all muted, I think, in one knowledge and skill. Things like his Toby jugs obviously directly ??? from ceramics, but somehow you feel the medium's quite important even though it all looks so glossy and unexpected.
MP: They're very witty, aren't they? They make you smile.
TH: Yes, and they can be quite sad too and haunting, especially when he sticks... I mean, this is a fairly early piece. He's got more and more cruel and subtle. There's a very strange piece I saw recently he just called 'Wave' and it was just a piece of ceramic in a sort of wave shape and he'd drawn a wave on it, and that was it. He's become... that's all... there's a darker side to him. But then I think the ceramic handle was meant to be a tragic piece.
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