Richard Perry


5 ceramic sculptures, including 3 water columns and 2 marker pieces. Heights 4, 3, 2 and I metres.  Commissioned by Grosvenor Estates for Festival Square, Basingstoke, 2002

This is a rarity for this blog…let me explain.  I’ve known Richard Perry for over thirty years.  He got in touch with me not long after he graduated and had taken a loft studio in Newark, Nottinghamshire whilst I was working for the regional Arts Council.  From the off I recognised both his talent and his seriousness. Over the years he has developed a substantial reputation, mainly for a succession of major public commissions.  Recently we’ve become near neighbours and with his solo show in the Angear space at Lakeside coming up (criminally a rather rare event), he asked me to write a short piece for the text panel in the gallery.  So this is not a review  but the expanded text from which the panel in the gallery is abridged…


Work in progress, studio

No surprise that in his public works the form of the tree plays a significant part of the repertoire: the sculpture of Richard Perry stands up solidly and elegantly like a fully grown English Oak full of surprising twists, turns and original features. Few contemporary carvers, especially those drawn to geometry, have been so cavalier with those most obdurate materials, such as marbles and that especially hard limestone from Kilkenny. A glance at, say, Interlocking Oaks, a piece at the old Boots HQ here in Nottingham from 2000 is indicative of the striking quality of the distinguished track record of public work right across the British Isles and beyond.

In this exhibition (a relatively rare opportunity to see a body of his work) the artist features recent studio sculptures, a few paintings and a suite of drawings, all of which in various ways touch upon ongoing concerns for the interactions and relationships of basic geometric forms in space. If there is a key component that best sums up the ambition in the work as a whole then poise might be it. Indeed this is a contemporary artist willing to engage in and admit to one of the greatest taboos in current art, beauty, and worse still for many so whisper it, craft.


Perry is fully aware of the dangers that lurk in these waters. No-one visiting his lean-to studio, exposed to the elements and (one suspects) perishing in winter, could be in doubt that the artist (given to standing and pondering the work for long spells of time) takes very seriously the pitfalls that both form and material can easily fall into – that ‘homes & gardens’ aesthetic as it were. These are lovely materials and in Richard’s experienced hands, fashioned into just as seductive formal characteristics.

A great deal of deliberation is required – hard, painstakingly concentrated looking – to ensure that this plane, or that surface, set against another is ‘right’ or more precisely has that quality that the great ceramicist Bernard Leach called ‘thusness’ (after his studies on the work of Soetsu Yanagi) and yet is also full of surprises. Indeed it is hard to see how these interlocking forms, planes, surfaces and voids could be arranged in any other manner once they are frozen in space. Each work becomes a game of Jenga, that pastime where towers are constructed from regular wooden blocks and the removal of a single piece can bring the whole thing crashing down.


To return to the notion of poise, and to use it in its archaic sense, it is the balance achieved in the sculpture (and just as surely in the paintings where colour is deployed with great sensitivity to both invite and contradict the sensations of moving through space) that solidifies the equilibrium of all the competing elements. That all this happens with material that is solid, stubborn and hard to fashion is a real testament to ability and durability in the character of the artist. Poise is also a technical term for a unit of dynamic viscosity, the act of resistance in shearing flows where layers move parallel to one another at differing speeds. This too seems apt in pieces where planes shift and tilt both in parallel and opposed to one another, and where the eye speeds across the surfaces but is then arrested by surprising conjunctions and original tropes.


It is in the drawings that these twists and turns of expected and then wholly unexpected formal arrangements are sent racing along at astonishing speed. With a myriad of variated marks, tones and intervals the images reveal something of the artist’s endlessly inventive and quizzical exploration of what form and material might be able to achieve in space that is both real and imagined. Perry opens up possibilities for what sculpture might achieve were we to crack open our three physical dimensions and discover one, two, three or more that some physicists and mathematicians tell us are already out there.


Barbara Hepworth – Small One, Two, Three (Vertical) 1975

Of course geometric sculpture (emerging in the early twentieth century) went through many reiterations of all kinds over the succeeding decades but pretty much fell out of favour by the mid sixties as the minimalists boiled it down to its essences. But curiously a small late (perhaps the last complete) work by Barbara Hepworth – Small One, Two, Three (Vertical) 1975 – might be seen as something of a precursor to these pieces by Richard.  In it she precariously balances a group of planes across three blocks atop each other. It is intriguing to imagine how these might have been extrapolated and developed into more complex arrangements had she lived…I’m taken with an idea that they might well have resembled a Richard Perry piece in this gallery.


Halley 3, 2013


Without feeling? but really felt…


We were due to go directly to Lincoln but I suggested a detour to the small market town of Sleaford to visit the National Centre for Craft & Design.  I knew the venue had opened “a few years back” as I told my partner in crime, the estimable Simon, but it turns out that was 13 years ago – so high time we paid it a visit! And in truth although rather tucked away in this – to be honest – remote corner of Lincolnshire it is a real delight. I shall certainly be keeping my eyes open for future shows there and for us its actually not that long a journey so there really isn’t an excuse if you’re a driver (I’ve no idea how the rail links are to here but I imagine not too good if you’re a distance away?).

The show that had caught my eye was Anton Alvarez’ ‘Autonomous Manufacturing System 1.0’ that between publication of the Feb/May programme and the opening became ‘Alphabet Aerobics’. In essence the show comprises a machine that makes ceramic sculpture without human intervention, the paraphernalia required to do so (including a gallery technician/invigillator, drying racks for the sculptures and a range of plinths on which finished works sit.


This is an intriguing and elegant show that is both visually interesting and conceptually questioning. The machine itself is cleverly though quite simply constructed…the clay is pushed down through a tube that ends with a die or mould that forms the material as it oozes out of this device onto a bed beneath that can be tilted forward or back further determining the ensuing shape. My pal and myself have just had a little debate over exactly what to call the various metal dies or moulds…suffice to say they are discs with shaped cut outs in them…but the key to the titling of the show comes from the idea that they are based (to my eye loosely) on the letters of the alphabet and that this is apparently related to a rap song? Whatever the specifics of this it is the delight of the machine demonstrated and occasioning a unique artwork on each occasion of its doing so.


The device, the moulds, the whims of the operator (we were told that each operator makes decisions on the actions and movements), and I imagine too, climatic conditions, subtle differences in material contents, and so on, determine outcome on each operation. It is a curious and chaotic means of predicting form although being machine driven there is an odd kind of unpredictable predictability at work too. It seems rather as if a Richard Deacon or Tony Cragg (more visually contingent?) or Ken Price(more materially so) were an automaton rather than a thinking emotional human, the sculptures being curiously both regimented and not. The use of the alphabet as a kind of cypher or metaphor is amusing too…as pieces are mounted to plinths will the alphabet emerge visually? This is a terrific exhibition that truly begs plenty of questions of us as viewers.

AA2The Centre is an enterprising and delightfully rounded venue, alongside Alvarez the show at the top of the building ‘The Other Mountain:Contemporary Chinese Jewellery’, was surprising and delightful by turns, a crazy material mix and imagery that both emphasises cultural origins and again then often confounds them. Next to it Kathryn Parsons’ eclectic mix of objects, a narrative thread held together by the obsessive delight in the life and work of John Clare, and small displays of wall hangings by Robyn Hinchcliffe and jewellery by Flora Bhattachary added up to collection of displays that makes a visit so much more rewarding than a single show venue where you are confronted with a ‘take it or leave it’ experience. Oh and the cafe is lovely too…the cakes were marvellous!