REVIEWED: Richard Slee: Fit For Purpose

By Martin Macdonald

Mainly comprised of glazed ceramics, Fit for Purpose features an array of individual pieces as well as installations which appear to organically come together despite their formalised arrangement. Meticulously positioned monochrome is interrupted by jolts of colour that infuse the atmosphere with joie de vivre. The works may serve no practical purpose - form and function fail to compliment each other - but Irony and a positive sprinkling of quirky British humour stand united in this exciting exhibition of London-based artist, Richard Slee.

Trunk Line, 2012

Trunk Line (2012) consists of two old-fashioned glazed ceramic phones - one orange and one aquamarine - connected with a black cord. Positioned atop a white IKEA table which serves as plinth, the work resembles stretched modernist typeface. Unlike actual phones, these are not meant to function as communication devices.

Unicycle, 2012

Leaning against a wall, an elegant monocycle, Unicycle (2012) - with an Adams-style plaster ceiling rose acting as wheel - stands on a ‘period’ doormat. In juxtaposition to these quaint elements, the seat and steel frame look unabashedly modern. It is however, not meant for physical transportation.

Ghost, 2013 and Candlesticks, 2012

Towards the centre of the room, on another white table, the white Ghost (2013) and black Candlesticks (2012) hold anthropomorphic qualities. The former echoes headless female spectres in long white gowns. Textured ridges and curvaceous heavy bases seem to prevent these ghostly figures from going to heaven. Candlesticks, on the other hand, reflects masculine qualities. The two black figures miror elegant gentlemen in top hats. Although Ghosts and Candlesticks are two individual works, there is something uncannily wedding-like about their sharing of the same ‘plinth’.

Hanging Snakes, 2012
Three Fingers, 2012

Two undulating green reptiles with hooks as tongues - Hanging Snakes (2012) - hang form a wall. Nearby, two white ceramic hands with three fingers and a thumb each - Three Fingers (2012) - hang quietly from cable ties. These comical hands pass for a combination Gromit’s paws and Wallace’s hands from Aardman’s famous Wallace & Gromit. Both hands and snakes may seem as though they will spring to life but they will in fact, remain permanently static. 

On the opposite wall, seven individual umbrellas hang side by side. These ceramics also include umbrella parts - tips and handles. Given its cartoonlike appearance, Carrot and Stick (2012), an orange umbrella in the form of a huge carrot is particularly funny. However, looking like a bizarre tree-bark, Stick (2013) is rather frightening. In any case, these umbrellas will shelter noone come rain or shine.

Carrot and Stick, 2012
Cans, 2013

The scrupulously stacked Cans (2013) - orange, aquamarine and yellow cans and six white balls are placed on the polished concrete floor by the back wall. There is something playful about this installation even though it echoes a long gone pre-computer game epoch. Given these ceramic ‘cans’ are sealed signifies that any impulse to store the balls in the cans once the game is over is nothing less than impossible.

Nose, 2013

Nose (2013), a cream-coloured sledgehammer nose on a red ‘cushion’ on the floor plus a red nose a few feet above on the corner wall echoes old fashioned strength-testing mallet games at fairgrounds. Nose adds a touch of the ludicrously surreal to the exhibition. Other standout pieces include Shy (2013), an installation of six colourful glazed ceramic wall lanterns which shed no light as coconuts replace light bulbs.

Having been introduced to Richard Slee’s quirky artistic practice at Camp Futility in Clapham’s Studio Voltaire in Spring 2012, this, Slee’s second solo exhibition of new works at Hales Gallery is no longer the surprise it once was. Nevertheless, like David Shrigley’s practice, it still has the power to put a smile on one’s face due to its peculiar sense of humour. More importantly, the exhibition’s fun yet melancholic hearts beats at its own rhythm. The show reminds the spectator that a lack of practical function - the common thread spreading throughout the works - can still be a source of joy and effective communication in a world that appears to be moving ever faster.

Shy, 2013

·         RICHARD SLEE: FIT FOR PURPOSE, HALES GALLERY. London. 1 Mar- 6 Apr 2013