It’s with a palpable sadness that we observe the passing of a great American artist, Kenneth Price. Born in February 16, 1935, he lived a fruitful 77 years, passing away on February 24, 2012 after a long battle with throat and tongue cancer. Price was well known for his ceramic sculptures and prints, which reflected his diverse views and inspirations, from the urban environments of Los Angeles to the Mexican folk poetry that would come to dominate his later artwork. His Mexican era was a subtle shift from his more typical work, which consisted mostly of abstract shapes constructed from fired clay, unglazed and intricately painted with layers of paint.
Price was born in Los Angeles, California and he would stay in his native state for his education, attending the Chouinard Art Institute before moving to the University of Southern California in 1956, where he received his BFA degree. He later returned to the Chouinard Art Institute in 1957 for further study, before moving to the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University in 1959, where he received his MFA degree. Notably, Price studied ceramics with Peter Voulkos, who was a key mentor. It was during his New York years that he was also awarded a Tamarind Fellowship.
An important figure in the L.A. art scene, Price was instrumental in the early stages of building momentum and a cultural base for the arts. As he noted in one media interview, there simply wasn’t an art space in L.A in the late 50s, as all art was cantered in New York: “There were hardly any galleries (in L.A.). The museum was downtown and it didn’t endorse contemporary art. And there were only about three viable art publications. The local newspaper critics didn’t like us at all. There weren’t any collectors, really very few. We made few sales, and for little money when we made them. But the people I knew were totally committed. And so was I.”
If there’s one quality you need to be an aspiring artist, it is commitment and hard work. This quality was evident in published statements remembering the artist and his work. The Harwood gallery curator Jina Brenneman and ceramist said he was just one of those artists who just worked. “That’s what he did, that’s what he lived and breathed,” she said. Friend and artist Larry Bell said Price was also good at injecting humour into his sculptures. “The thing that was amazing about Kenny is how inventive he was with form and surface and colour. He just invented these totally goofy shapes and then caressed them until they became just magnificent little objects,” Bell said. “He just kept working on extending that kind of direction — that very personal, intimate relationship with his material — until it took on an incredible life of its own.” We’re sure Price will impact countless more artists to come.