Ken Price

On his birthday, today I thought a lot about the fabulous Ken Price (February 16, 1935- February 24, 2012).

Ken Price was an American artist best known for his small-scale ceramic sculptures which resembled biomorphic blobs, sliced geodes, and surreal teacups. Derived from Mexican-folk pottery, geology, erotic objects, and surf culture, Price’s influences were imaginative and eclectic. “You can see the whole piece and all of its surface detail in one glance. So it’s very easy to visualize those pieces as being any size, especially monumental,” he once said of scale in his work. (Artnet)

I’ve seen Price’s work in person a bunch of times, but two pieces that I saw at Art Basel in 2019 were true standouts. I really wanted to touch the surface of these.

Ken Price, NeGrum, 1994
Fired and painted clay, 13 3/4″ x 15″ x 12 3/8 in
Ken Price, Nounless, 1989
Fired and painted clay, 10 1/4″ x 14 3/8″ x 10 1/4 in

As an undergraduate Price studied under the famed ceramicist Peter Voulkos and, like so many great ceramicists, earned an MFA from the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. In early years, Price (along with John McCracken, and Billy Al Bengston formed what would come to be called the Finish Fetish movement.

Through a long career, Price distinguished himself by his ceramic work, and works on paper. Both mediums are immediately recognizable as work by Price. “In his later works, he applied as many as 75 layers of acrylic paint in several hues. (He stopped using glazes in 1983.) Selective sanding then partially revealed underlying strata, producing surfaces often referred to as speckled, stippled or mottled, words that fall short in conveying the works’ mesmerizing chromatic effects” (Art in America)

The New York Times has an excellent article about Price’s career retrospective, held in 2012, the year of his death.

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