Ken Price was a relentlessly inventive artist, continually changing the forms, surfaces, colors, and shapes of his sculptures throughout his five-decade career. During the 1960s and 1970s he made diminutively scaled works whose innovative and occasionally outlandish shapes subverted the functionality of traditional ceramics. In the 1980s and 1990s he jettisoned receptacle-like forms and traded his glazes for acrylic paint, which he often applied to his bulbous clay forms in layers before sanding them down to create unique variegated multicolor patterns. Toward the end of his life he began working at a much larger scale, one that speaks directly to the viewer’s body, his sculptures’ smooth surfaces lacquered with iridescent colors to augment their seductive power.
Price was also an extraordinary draftsman, making drawings throughout his career that are as inventive as his sculpture. “I’ve been drawing since I can remember,” he said. “I think sculptors learn to draw so that they can see what they’ve been visualizing.” Some of these drawings depict impossible sculptures, like a cup with a leaping frog for a handle, while others envision a whole world for his works to inhabit. Los Angeles, complete with palm-studded skylines and smog-filled skies, was often the subject of his drawings before he moved to Taos, New Mexico, in the 1990s and began producing wilder landscapes with erupting volcanoes and cyclonic skies.
Ken Price (1935–2012) was born in Los Angeles. His first one-person exhibition was at LA’s legendary Ferus Gallery in 1960, when he was just twenty-five, and critics lauded his work for its originality. (Lucy Lippard wrote, “No one else, on either the east or west coast, is working like Ken Price.”) His work was on the cover of Artforum in 1963, and he had a one-person exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1969. In later years Price had one-person exhibitions at the Menil Collection in Houston, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. Shortly after his death, in 2012, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art presented a retrospective of his work, which traveled to the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In 2013 the Drawing Center in New York, in collaboration with Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery, organized the first survey of Price’s works on paper.