Richard Slee (b. 1946 Cumbria, UK) studied at Carlisle College of Art & Design (1964–65) and graduated in ceramics from Central School of Art & Design, London in 1970. He received an MA from the Royal College of Art, London in 1988. Slee lives and works in London, UK.
As one of Britain's most important contemporary ceramic artists, Slee's work attempts to challenge every conventional notion in ceramic art, transcending its utilitarian roots, whilst also sidestepping the self-indulgent aspects of the studio tradition that became ubiquitous in the late twentieth century. His works lie in contemporary debate and reference the current positioning of material specialisations within visual creativity.
For Slee, the objects he produces are intrinsically about the domestic interior and a love for the 'great indoors'. There are fabricated references in the work to the decorative, the ornamental and the symbolic both from past histories and within contemporary culture. These sources, often eclectic, are brought together to explore new meanings and dramas. For now, they are resolved since the medium of ceramics permanently fixes them, but, as always, the drama of meaning is contingent and fluid.
Often tinged with irony, these juxtapositions of material and form reveal Slee’s interest in our phenomenological understanding of common objects. Interpretation of the works hinges on the gap between taking the object at face value and the implied meaning that kicks in as Slee’s intriguing formal and visual choices come into focus.
Slee repositions and reframes everyday objects in glazed ceramic, with the artist suggesting that he makes a tool useless by making it precious. Red Shovel (2010) came out of Slee’s experimentations with readymade shovels and a desire to make one himself. Subverting the masculinity associated with tools, Slee created a Victorian-inspired, heart shaped ceramic shovel – its sole purpose being aesthetic and decorative. Perfect Pie (2003) was inspired by factory made pies that appear to be handcrafted, which are created without blemish on the production line. In Perfect Pie, the fired earthenware is covered in a beautiful syrupy yellow glaze. It has Slee’s thumb prints pressed into the crimped crust and the hole in the middle has been deliberately left rough in reference to examples of medieval pottery one might encounter in a museum. Playing with scale and puns, Slee elegantly touches upon cultural references – each gesture is well thought through and multifaceted.
Merging a British humour with profound technical ability, Slee has a distinctive voice that challenges the conventions of the studio pottery tradition, transcending its utilitarian roots and paving the way for a new genre of ceramic art.
His solo exhibition, Richard Slee Mantlepiece Observations will open later this year at Bolton Museum, UK.