Artist Spotlight: Ken Price Ceramics
On a surfing trip to Mexico in the 1950s, Ken Price became enamored with the folk pottery that populated Tijuana’s shops and vendor carts. Along with textural and geometric appeal, each piece bore inadvertent traces of its maker’s hand. By the early 1960s, Price had travelled to Japan and similarly was taken by the culture’s reverence for fine craftsmanship. Having trained under revolutionary sculptor Peter Voulkos, who preached the dissolution of boundaries between fine art and craft, Price set to interpreting the clay artistry that had long been dismissed by the art establishment. Read as a reaction to the gestural style and scale of Voulkos’s works, Price turned to the creation of more intimate objects. In the late 1950s, Price began experimenting with ceramic cups. According to Price, the cup innately held “a set of formal restrictions” and “a preordained structure” as an essential utilitarian item, which designated it as a ready “vehicle for ideas.” Price also took interest in the primal nature of the object, as he identified a nurturing femininity in the action of “putting warm liquid in your mouth.”
As demonstrated by these two examples from the collection of photographer and gallerist Patricia Faure, Untitled (Cup)(lot 249) and Untitled (Cup) (lot 250), Price applied a wide array of decorative styles to his objects. These ranged from biomorphic shapes reminiscent of undersea creatures to cleaner studies of color and shape. Known for always being in the right place at the right time, Faure seemed to make a habit of playfully capturing moments that would inevitably take on meaningful cultural significance. In a series of photographs from 1972, Faure situated Price’s cups, physically and culturally, amidst the haute stardom of model Penny Hawks, and Toni Basil and Helena Kallianiotes, who had appeared together in the film Five Easy Pieces two years earlier. Through Faure’s classic fashion photography framing, Price’s fixation on elevating utilitarian objects could be compared to the revolution in fashion, where designers were similarly testing the boundaries between fine art and design with avant-garde experimentations like Rudi Gernreich’s Unisex Line, for which Faure shot the campaign in 1970.
While Price gradually transitioned away from the cup form into more purely abstract sculptures, the bulbous character of Untitled (Cup) (lot 249) and geometric lines of Untitled (Cup) (lot 250) seem to have achieved their crystalline form in Price’s 1994 work, The Blush (lot 248). In the mid-1980s, Price shifted away from traditional glazing methods and began to experiment with the application of acrylic paint on ceramic. This allowed the artist to explore much more complex color relationships and fundamentally changed the character of his work. Sparked by his early investigation of the cup as an object, Price demonstrated a career-long interest in not only the vessel form, but the in broader duality of interior and exterior. Described as a “collision of raw and refined surfaces,” Price’s meteorite-like sculptures, such as The Blush, feature organic, opalescent exteriors that meet crisp and “highly polished” plains of hyper-saturated color and the hard edge of the interior opening. Though many of his works explore “the damp underside of things,” Price seems to offer an alternative perspective in this arrangement. Rather than a revelation of the strangeness that might lay beneath a domesticated façade, sophisticated lines emerge from the rough texture of an untamed shell, hinting at order beneath the chaos.
Cotter, Holland. “The East Coast of California.” The New York Times, 21 June 2013, p. C25, www.nytimes.com/2013/06/21/arts/design/ken-price-yes-the-ceramics-are-art.html.
“Ken Price: Early Cups and Related Works On Paper.” Franklin Parrasch Gallery, 2006, franklinparrasch.com/exhibitions/2006_4_ken-price/pressrelease/.
“Ken Price Cups.” National Gallery of Art, www.nga.gov/features/the-serial-impulse/ken-price.html.
Miles, Christopher. “Patricia Faure at Margo Leavin Gallery.” Artforum International, 24 Mar. 2005, www.artforum.com/picks/patricia-faure-8658.
Barron, Stephanie, and Laureen Bergman. Ken Price Sculpture: a Retrospective. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2012.
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