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Ken Price’s ceramic works inhabit the pastiche and nervous irreverence of Postmodernism, as well as the meticulous self-possession of Minimalism and earlier 20th century art movements. As a leader in elevating ceramics to fine art, Price created a vast body of work, captivating in its eccentricity and use of global ceramic traditions.
Born in Los Angeles in 1935, the Southern Californian landscape greatly influenced Price—he surfed nearly every day for over a decade—and his earliest visual memories were of wandering stalls of tourist trinkets and pottery in Tijuana. While in high school, he took art classes at Chouinard and received his BFA from the University of Southern California in 1956. He briefly studied with Peter Voulkos, whose monumental, brash works and influence were overpowering to the young Price—so much so that he left California to pursue an MFA at New York State College of Ceramics to develop his own voice.
Upon graduating in 1959, Price returned to Los Angeles, where, at the time, no real art scene existed. He became involved with the boisterous Ferus Gallery, where his first solo exhibition was held in 1960. Throughout the decade, he incorporated what would become his signature biomorphic, enigmatic and erotic forms into functional objects like plates and teacups. Price also honed his masterful execution of internal scale and ability to craft tension between surface texture and colors. He spent six months in Japan studying pottery in 1962 and incorporated what he learned into his own style; he continued this practice throughout his career, finding further inspiration in folk art and Southwestern and Mexican pottery.
Price lived and worked in Taos for the majority of the 1970s, in Massachusetts in the 1980s and returned to Los Angeles in 1992, splitting his time between Taos and the University of Southern California, where he was the head of the ceramics department until his death in 2012. Though he did not often speak about his art, Price liked to quote Joseph Cornell, saying: “Tiny is the last refuge for the enormous.” Only later in life did he begin working on a larger scale (most of his works never measured over twenty inches). Contained in Price’s pristine and seductive vessels are the many subconscious impulses that underlie the everydayness of our lives.