Hales New York presents Richard Slee: Perfect Pie. This is Slee’s third solo exhibition with Hales Gallery.
Richard Slee is deemed to be one of Britain’s most significant and influential ceramic artists. Merging humor and irony with profound technical ability, Slee challenges the conventions of the studio pottery tradition, transcending its utilitarian roots and paving the way for a new genre of ceramic art.
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Perfect Pie presents an overview of nearly two decades of the artist’s career (the exhibition’s centerpiece Hammers remains ongoing). This selection highlights themes that recur across Slee’s substantial oeuvre: the great outdoors and the domestic interior (or “the great indoors,” as he prefers to call it). Slee integrates fabricated references to the decorative, the ornamental, and the symbolic—both from past histories and within contemporary culture. These eclectic sources reposition and reframe everyday objects in novel contexts.
In works like Hammers (2010 – ongoing) and Anvil (1986/2003/2018), tools lose their intended purpose, instead parading an ironic fragility. Slee continuously toys with the hierarchy culturally embedded in materials—for example, the lavishness of porcelain versus the utilitarianism of brick clay—as he subverts the idea that one material should be valued over another. By casting hammers in glistening glaze, Slee is, in his own words, “making a tool useless by making it precious.”
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. In Trowel (2007-2008), for example, trails of fringing oscillate between the illusion of a thick wash of paint and decorative tasseling. Likewise, Rope Rain (originally exhibited in Richard Slee: From Utility to Futility at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London in 2010) simultaneously mimics falling precipitation and hanging twine, depending on the way the light hits—a continuous shifting between movement and stillness, natural and manufactured.
While Slee’s chosen medium may permanently fix these forms, the drama of meaning in his work remains slyly contingent and fluid.
Richard Slee (b. Cumbria, UK, 1946) studied ceramics at the Central School of Art & Design, London (1965–70) and graduated with an MA at the Royal College of Art, London in 1988. Slee lives and works in London. In 2002, he was awarded the Jerwood Applied Arts Prize for his contribution to contemporary ceramics, “expand[ing] the dialogue between ceramic tradition and visual culture in ways that resonate outwards.”
Selected solo exhibitions include Camp Futility, Studio Voltaire (UK); Richard Slee: Fit for Purpose, Hales Gallery (UK); Richard Slee, Garth Clark Gallery, New York; Richard Slee: From Utility to Futility Victoria & Albert Museum; and the recent U.K. touring exhibition, Work and Play (2014).
His work has been included in the catalogues for That Continuous Thing: Artists and the Ceramics Studio, 1920 – Today, Tate St Ives (2017); CERAMIX, from RODIN to SCHÜTTE, Maastricht and Paris(2015); and Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970–1990 (2011), Victoria & Albert Museum. Slee’s work is represented in numerous collections world-wide, including British Council (UK); Victoria & Albert Museum (UK); Museum of Arts and Design, New York (USA); Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (USA); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (The Netherlands); and Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto (Japan).Courtesy of the artist and Hales