March 23 | WALTER PRICE on Philip Guston | National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Every play is a battle, 2022
Acrylic, gesso, vinyl, and chrome pen on wood
50 x 102 x 3 inches (127 x 259.1 x 7.6 cm)
Walter Price's paintings and drawings tread the line between figuration and abstraction, creating interior worlds that hover on the brink of legibility. Born in Macon, Georgia, Price served in the U.S. Navy en route to art school, where he honed his own idiosyncratic pictorial language. His fluid compositions encompass dynamic fields of stray marks and quasi-legible motifs: a TV monitor, a sofa, brick walls, automobiles, small hats of uncertain origin, a character from The Wiz. Bodies tend to emerge, fragmented, from abstract backdrops rendered in vibrant greens, yellows, and oranges; unmoored landscapes hover above or beneath the picture plane. Darby English has remarked on Price’s “penchant for punchy color: weighted with value and density.” As English notes, this color “approaches in sheets or lands with a thud, it bewilders, and it is potent exactly because it talks more to the body and imagination than to the head."
As much as Price’s canvases revel in vivid color, solo exhibitions at venues such as MoMA PS1 or the Aspen Art Museum have also demonstrated his abiding commitment to line, to draftsmanship. A painting like A breeze filled with determination wafted towards us (2018) is studded with sparse symbols suggestive of both personal and cultural experiences—a runner, a palm tree, a Georgia peach—their identities recognizable yet, as curator Ashley James suggests, “never fully comprehended.” Drawing is foundational to Price’s practice, an independent endeavor in which the artist plays even further with detail, his agile strokes of pencil and pastel contributing to a typology of figures and scenes both diverse and coherent.
Continuing in the tradition of artists such as Jacob Lawrence and Henry Taylor, Price creates imagery that is figurative and abstract, individual and collective. Racial and ideological binaries are overturned as well, decoupled from their mainstream signifiers; for English, Price moves toward “claiming and combining cultural differences an otherwise inclined artist would forfeit and separate.” Transgressing bounded ideas of representation, Price’s combinatory logic instead challenges the strictures of visual communication and cultural consciousness, the relationship between what we see and what we know. In the end, Price aims for something more visceral: art that, in his words, “feels funky.”
Walter Price lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Recent solo exhibitions include Greene Naftali, New York (2022; 2020); Camden Art Centre, London (2021); Aspen Art Museum (2019); MoMA PS1, New York (2018); and Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne (2018). His work was included in the 2019 Whitney Biennial, and is in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo; Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris; Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin; Hessel Museum of Art, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York; and Rollins Museum of Art, Orlando, among others.