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Kenneth Price dies at 77; artist transformed traditional ceramics

Kenneth Price was among the first generation of iconoclastic L.A. artists to attain international stature. His work with glazed and painted clay was 'resolutely original' and redefined contemporary sculpture, an observer says.

February 25, 2012|By Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times Art Critic

The following year he had the first of three solo exhibitions at Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, showing rough-hewn, beehive-shaped covered jars, some displayed inside modest wood cases reminiscent of Joseph Cornell's boxed assemblages. The small size of his works surprised people more accustomed to large-scale sculpture, but it announced a lifelong interest in intimacy as a subject.

His second show in 1961 featured a now-famous poster of Price casually riding a Pacific wave on his surfboard, arms held high with his name printed in a rainbow-arch between outstretched hands. It included small, sleek, brightly painted "eggs" with sexually provocative fingers of tangled clay erupting from dark orifices. Friend and fellow artist Edward Ruscha once described them as "psycho-erotic." The stylistic break with Voulkos was complete. The beautifully crafted and brightly painted work was as effortless and triumphant as the playful surfing poster implied.

Examples of these and other early sculptures are currently featured in the exhibitions "Common Ground: Ceramics in Southern California, 1945-1975," at the American Museum of Ceramic Art, Pomona, and "Clay's Tectonic Shift: John Mason, Ken Price and Peter Voulkos, 1956-1968," at the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College, Claremont.

In 1968 Price married Ward, who survives him along with their son, Jackson, and his step-children, Romy and Sydney. Two years later the couple moved to Taos. In 1983 they relocated to the Massachusetts coast, where they remained for seven years, until Price returned to Los Angeles and joined the USC faculty. After teaching for a decade Price went back to Taos with his family. He lived and worked in both New Mexico and California ever since.

christopher.knight@latimes.com

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