Brighton showcase for "one of Britain’s most influential ceramic artists"

Hove Museum & Art Gallery has reopened with a new collection of work produced by one of Britain’s most influential ceramic artists.

Thursday, 12th August 2021, 6:05 am
Richard Slee
Richard Slee

Mantelpiece Observations, presents a new commission by Richard Slee, known as the ‘Grand Wizard of studio ceramics.’

The exhibition consists of a series of objects and installations inspired by Mass Observation’s 1937 Mantelpiece Reports.

Spokeswoman Caroline Sutton explains: “The Mass Observation Project is part of the University of Sussex and the archive is stored at The Keep in Brighton.

“In the 1930s it was a pioneering social research organisation which aimed to document everyday life in Britain.

“Its first initiative, the Mantelpiece Directive, invited its national panel of volunteers to share what was on their mantelpieces. The resulting reports demonstrate how the seemingly insignificant objects in our homes are in fact full of meaning and led the organisation to conclude that we are what we live with.

“One of the continuities of Slee’s otherwise diverse output is an interest in the everyday, the domestic and the kind of objects that might be seen displayed on the typical mantelpiece, as evident in his well-known series of oversized Toby figures from the early 1990s.

“For this exhibition, Slee has returned to the form, making his first Toby figures in 25 years, inspired by a detailed description in one of the 1937 reports.

“Other works include a Janus-faced ceramic spaniel taking inspiration from a Staffordshire dog figurine as described by a housewife from Burnley.

“Slee has also selected 18 photographs by pioneering photographer Humphrey Spender to hang alongside his ceramic pieces. Spender was the lead photographer on MO’s study of northern working-class life in the late 1930s.

“His photographs of industrial Bolton and its millworkers at play in Blackpool are hugely evocative of the 1930s and therefore add a sense of period context to Slee’s new ceramics.”

Richard Slee said: “Working from the MO Mantelpiece Reports and Humphrey Spender’s photographic archive of 1937-8 has set a focus that has been liberating and stimulating, suggesting new creative solutions.

“Works have emerged from the individual written reports prompted by such things as the typing mistake in ‘Block woolly cat’, a detailed description of a Toby jug or the minimal description of ‘a pair of ordinary vases.’

“These mantelpiece objects and arrangements are an altar to the interior, a landing strip for the everyday, a haven of domestic symbolism.”

Matthew Watson, curator of Mantelpiece Observations, said: “The pairing of Richard Slee with Mass Observation’s Mantelpiece Reports is perfect, like it was waiting to happen.

“The mantelpiece installations Richard has created for the exhibition perfectly capture the bizarre juxtapositions of ordinary and exotic objects in the original 1937 reports.

“The exhibition has a retrospective feel to it, a summing up of past themes and concerns, but it also takes Richard’s work in a new direction.

“The use of archival material as a source of inspiration is a novel departure for him and the exhibition brings out the surrealist side of his work.”