BY Jeffrey Ryan in Reviews | 01 JAN 08
Featured in
Issue 120

Ken Price

LA Louver, Los Angeles, USA

BY Jeffrey Ryan in Reviews | 01 JAN 08

Ken Price, Seven High, 2008

If anything deserved the epithet ‘finish fetish’, it would be the sculptures of Ken Price, who for decades has been making ceramic works that defy categories and trends in their garish, organic shapes. In ten new works, contrasting colours vie for retinal attention, all built up from layers of pearlescent paints. The results create incredible sheens: in Yeow (all works 2008) what looks like a brownish rock turns out to be a combination of metallic blue, yellow, green, red and even pink. These shimmery surfaces glow, throwing light into folds, and conjure up fanciful amphibious skins. Logic tells you that Price piles layers of paint over these fired clay blobs, then sands through to reveal their mottled surfaces, yet when you see a rainbow in the span of a two-milimetre freckle, all you can think of is alchemy.

Price uses two units in these works, one being an extruded sausage shape, as in Argonne, which looks like a dozen coppery green legumes piled high, or Hotso, the prettiest fuchsia-tinged calabashes ever. If bacteria could be cradled in your arms, you’d swear they’d look like this. The other element in Price’s repertoire is a smooth disc not unlike a perfect stone for skipping across a pond, except blown up to the size of one’s hand. Yeow finds a stack of these large pebbles magically balanced on top of one another, revealing a rock climber’s dreamscape. Combinations of these two units create funky hybrids such as Cocodo, which could be four rocks or a creature with three legs, or Blakey, which looks like two figures locked in a three-way secondary-coloured embrace. Seven High conjures the aesthetics of sandcastles, languid and oozing, beautiful in spite of being unseemly, its elements melting down or possibly rising up from the primordial ooze. These sculptures are sexy without the copulation, more like mitosis than conjugal, their shapes beg your eyes, as well as your hands, to caress.

Price’s objects are analogous to Chinese scholar rocks, but instead of mountains, we now look out at the vistas of science fiction, landscapes better suited as backdrops for Barbarella (1968) than Zen poets. Gonzalo reminds one of a ravine carved from thousands of years of wind and rivulets (especially if that canyon looked like periwinkle television static). Spirit of ’08 is a teaming mass of autumnal red, yellow and green piled into a tiny hill. It could be toxic effluvia or microbes wrenching in pure vitality, a can of worms upended or the largest turd: either way, it is a perfect mess. These works are very much Pop, but without the jingle; call them Primal Pop, simultaneously natural and completely phoney. Odd as they look, they have a commensurability the Ancient Greeks would dig. As they contemplated these clay mounds, marvelling at their light and lustre, they would perhaps mostly see joy. Price’s blobs, after all these years still small but mighty, are full of life and imagination.