Ken Price W’53 is a Big Deal! Nationally and internationally recognized as one of America’s most significant contemporary sculptors, Price has made a powerful mark in the art world. Currently, a Price exhibit is at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and last year LACMA held an important retrospective that drew large crowds. Price graduated from University High School in 1953 where he served as a cartoonist for the school newspaper in 1952-1953. We are fairly sure that Price also designed endpapers for the yearbook.*
Price knew from the beginning that he would be an artist. He began drawing, often producing books and cartoons in childhood, and while still a student at Uni, he signed up for classes in ceramics at Santa Monica City college. After graduation from high school, formal study included time at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles and a degree at USC. An enthusiastic surfer who explored the Pacific coast, Price frequently ventured south to Tijuana where he was drawn to curio stores that fed a lifelong interest in Mexican pottery and folk art. Before he left Los Angeles, Price studied with renowned ceramic sculptor, Peter Voulkos at Otis Art Institute. Somewhat a rebel throughout his life and especially in his early years as an artist, Price moved deliberately away from Voulkos’ powerful influence to study at Alfred University in upstate New York where he experimented with his hallmark colorful glazes while he received an MFA in Ceramics.
Returning to Los Angeles, Price found an artistic home at the Ferus Gallery by 1960. He became a fixture in what grew to be an enormously influential nexus of the art world along with fellow artists Robert Irwin, Ed Ruscha, Billy Al Bengston, John Altoon, Larry Bell, and John McCracken. Los Angeles became not just acenter of the national art scene but thecenter from the 60’s forward, and Ken Price played a vital role in the transformation.
In interviews, Price often referred to the impact of growing up in Los Angeles. Like many young men of the 50’s, he was fascinated by LA’s car culture and the fabrication shops that made it possible to customize virtually anything. The Warrior cartoon above was one of several that he drew at Uni with cars as the focus. Price found it natural to add color to his sculptures in an almost playful way that made his work stand out amidst more conventional work of the 60’s. Always a craftsman and an artist, Price said: “A craftsman knows what he is going to make…an artist doesn’t know what he’s going to make or what the finished product is going to look like.”
Price did not live to witness the enormously popular tributes at LACMA or the Met. In February of 2012, he died of cancer in Taos, New Mexico, where he had lived with his family and kept a studio since the 70’s. His good friend Frank Gehry designed both of the exhibits which have drawn raves from all ends of the spectrum—critics familiar with his work and art lovers who have viewed the stunning retrospective for the first time.
We are grateful to many sources for the information in the above. Among them: Frank Lloyd Gallery website, the New Yorker, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times.All of the cartoons are taken from the Winter 1953 Warriorarchive at Uni, and the cartoon panels are in the 1953 Chieftain.* Given the style of the credited Warriorcartoons, we are reasonably sure that the ’53 Chieftaincartoon strips were also done by Price.
If any of you have information regarding this Uni history, please share it in your class notes.
-by Lynne Culp