Richard Slee’s postmodern artworks in the exhibition Work and Play at Oriel Myrddin are tactile, humorous and Disney-like. I can imagine these in a comic YouTube video, a man playing a prank trying to use one of these hammers in a DIY home experiment and then the hammer smashing into thousands of pieces. However, there is also an inherent sadness to the works; a Tatlin and Malevich-esque plane that will not fly, functional objects not operating as they should which challenges us to view the scooters, spades and other objects as works of art.

The exhibits are displayed in a seductive way. We are able to see them close up but at the same time there is the frustration of not being able to touch. Could they be smooth, could they be coarse, or could they bounce out of your hands off the table and smash into cubes?

The works share similar concerns with Jeff Koon’s sculptural structures, and how both Slee and Koons mirror a consumerist landscape through these somehow distorted pieces, that re contextualise everyday manufactured objects. During Slee’s talk at Oriel Myrddin I recall him mentioning the ‘real value’ of things, after which he talked about the golden spade with diamante, Dust 2010, then quickly onto highlighting the current economical situation in Greece.

Whilst studying at Central School (now Central Saint Martin’s) Slee mentioned that there was a great interest in 18th century English traditions amongst staff and senior lecturers. Slee harks back to the period of the 1740’s when many of the major factories were at the zenith of their production, such as Wedgewood, Weldon and Spode. He was interested in re-visiting and re-interpreting the original techniques used in production, some of which are still used in Stoke-on-Trent, but are slowly dying out altogether.

Much of Slee’s interest in objects and ornamentation developed from growing up in the 1950’s and his mother’s interest in Danish furniture design and utility furniture. At this time design was heavily influenced by developments in science, space travel and the atomic bomb. The bright primary palette of the objects in the exhibition echoes the homeware and ceramics from that time. Emily King states in the book, Mass Production “There is a cultural relationship with the products Slee makes, working with and against traditional objects.”

Slee’s artworks in Work and Play are not only engaging but visually delightful, comic objects that embody a history of British culture.

 

Eleni Foundoukis 2015

Eleni is a volunteer with Oriel Myrddin Gallery contributing to the critical discourse of the gallery.

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