Oliver Clegg’s Tabletop Tête-à-Tête

As soon as British artist Oliver Clegg stumbled across a 1982 Dynamo limited edition foosball table in California, he arranged its shipment to NYC. Seasoned by past work painting discarded toys and creating 3D scans of chess-sets—like antique pieces from Sigmund Freud’s own collection—Clegg is no stranger to the concept of play. This round, he tries his hand at a humorous redesign of the tabletop, coin-operated game.

Artsy: Why foosball? In the past, you have worked with toys and the concept of “play”—does creating a foosball table come from a similar inspiration?

Oliver Clegg: The idea for the foosball piece really came from two inspirations. First was the fact that I was married last September to my lovely wife Natasha. I wanted to make a piece that represented the importance of this unity but in a light-hearted and somewhat comical way. Second was via the inspiration of my first monograph, which we began pulling together in January this year. This process began with a series of conversations between me and the writer Dan Fox. Not only did the theme of play arise consistently throughout the conversations when discussing my work—in the subject matter of children’s toys in older paintings but also in pieces such as the Freud Chess set—but also when I began to consider the overall body of my work from the last five years I realized there were certain gaps that I wanted to fill for which the book has been a catalyst. These gaps seem to be wider on the sculptural side with some ideas that I had been wanting to make for some time which I had shelved in favor of exploring painting. Funny enough, two of these pieces were actually games that you could play—the foosball set, and secondly a CNC-carved chess set made from the bricks of my old studio in Hackney, London, and loosely based on Duchamp’s Buenos Aires set. The joy of both of these recent sculptures is the fact that you can play with them—the foosball table is coin operated and fully functional. This means there is not only artistic values to be considered but also a possibility to get genuine enjoyment from the competition and excitement of the game itself—helping to catalyse the consideration of the aesthetic and conceptual.

Artsy: Can you take us through the process of creating the table?

OC: The starting point for the piece was to take images of me and my wife naked in the studio. With these photographs I worked closely with a model maker called Adam Bailey who began making small clay figurines from the images. We deliberately did not use a 3D-scanning technique because I didn’t want the models to be perfect replicas of the human form—I wanted the players to have very stylized bodies like a traditional foosball player and for the faces to be more figuratively considered. We actually didn’t use computers or digital processes at any point in the creation of the figures; I wanted to bring the piece back into the context of traditional sculptural practice—using the hands and the mind to create without the compromised advantages of new technologies.

Once the sculpting of the clay figures had been finished we proceeded to make silicon rubber moulds from which the resin figures could be then be produced. After some color consultation with my wife, the coloured resin mix was made and poured into the molds to fabricate the teams. A single mold was made for the goalies and the process then repeated.

The figures could then be drilled and fitted onto the table—a 1982 Dynamo limited edition (one of only 600 made) that I had found in Northern California and shipped to NYC. With a glass “pitch” the table is very fast and also coin-operated—helping the piece to hopefully self-finance itself if it’s played enough!

Artsy: Where is your ideal place for this game to end up, and who should be playing?

OC: I would like my foosball tables to end up with people who actually enjoy playing the game, as they are ultimately pieces that are made with this objective. There is no age limit for foosball so anyone who gets enjoyment from it should play with it—as long as they are tall enough to reach the bars!

Purchase Clegg’s flirtatious foosball tables in the Grey Area curated sale Game On!.

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