• Archie Gibbs

Walter Price Exhibition Review, 2020

The Modern Institute’s Autumn program continues with the American painter Walter Price’s third show at the gallery, Pearl Lines.

As I enter the black walled and carpeted main gallery space, Price's jump out instantly and draw me in. The alteration made to the main exhibiting room changes the viewing experience from the offset. The exhibition we see here travelled recently from the Green Naftali gallery in New York (who opted for the traditional white cube viewing format), though I can hardly imagine experiencing this work outside of this condition. Price’s assertive, mercurial colouration is not just conspicuous, it pops on the matt black walls and creates an thoughtful environment for these distinctive works.

Walter Price’s rather esoteric visual vocabulary can initially bemuse and distance viewers. Most often discussed about his oeuvre, rightly so, is his employment of an intensely vivid palette. While optically interesting, there is degree of ambiguity to his vernacular yet uncanny subject matter, sparking a much deeper engagement with his work. Price’s confident use of colour comes out of much application and experimentation, though ultimately it stems from his eschewing of an traditional art historical approach to colour. By utilising colour as subject matter, he not only synthesises many formerly disparate elements of painting itself, he’s able to reinvigorate in the ever re-invented medium with a clear impassion.

Installation view, 'Pearl Lines', The Modern Institute, Aird's Lane, Glasgow, 2020.

Price depicts bountiful environments, some fathomable and some rather morbid. These are the sorts of places you can perhaps imagine after the insanity of the past year, though otherwise reserved for a lucid dream. I first encounter the de-contexualised familiar recurrent in his work, also a tenant of surrealism, in Ambient Traffic Noise (2019). With an array of figures, colours, motifs and materials employed forming a vibrant visual register, Price’s work ensures a certain Delphic toil in attempting to unravel any didacticism. I attempt to surmise a story out of this ambiguous scene of a canoe voyage nearing its end, though this quickly proves trivial. Price’s works do not tie in eloquently to amalgamate a cohesive narrative, they disjoint the viewer and purposefully jolt a passive phenomenology. His titles disorientate and the scenes he depicts often appear as if they are construed from several viewpoints and perspectives. This is crucial to Price’s prowess as an artist - his ability to not only resituate the ordinary in something exciting and provocative, he delves into something a lot deeper, manifestations of human experience and the fundamental visual qualities of memory and history. Price does not simply engage in an exercise of colour composition, he produces work of great intaking value, that is, their ability to be projected upon and promote alterity in the imaginative and the intuitive.

Walter Price, Ambient traffic noise, 2019. Acrylic, flashe, screws, mending plates on wood, mounted on canvas, 91.8 x 122.7 cm.

Accompanying this abundant exhibition is a newly authored essay on the artist’s recent works by art historian Darby English. The influential writer discusses at length Price’s colouration and the effect this has on the condition the painting is consumed and lived with. English situates Price in a lineage of Art History, positioning the artists work as a product of wider society and art historical precedence. Formally, Price poses visual conundrums that excite the viewer. Though lack of compositional depth is nothing new since the flattening of the canvas in the early 20th C, his assurance of the materiality of colour itself disorientates me. It is as if I am constantly peering through layers of strata, through windows before you can position yourself in the scene. There is a definite sense of the outsider looking in, you are oddly positioned above and to the side of the action in the painting. His use of colour constantly presents new problems, and thus simply, makes for interesting paintings to look at.

Walter Price, It starts with fire, and still burns, 2020. Acrylic and gesso on canvas, 91.4 x 121.9 cm. Image courtesy of the author

These aren’t the mental downloads of a dream from the night before, he works with methodological leitmotifs: furniture, technology, natural forces, weightlifting men. They aren’t flung together as some banal carnival or colour and form, the figurative is inextricable from the abstract in Prices paintings. The artist is furthermore a vehement drawer, describing the “thousands” of drawings he has in the studio at any given time during an interview with curator Hans Ulrich Obrist in 2018. The drawings in the Bricks Space sections of the Aird’s Lane location certainly corroborates this penchant for drawing, a series from this year made with marker, colour pencil and graphite. Admittedly they are less potent than the paintings, though there is only so much vividity of colour and form until it fuses into disarray.

Installation view, 'Pearl Lines', The Modern Institute, Aird's Lane, Glasgow, 2020

Pearl Lines is a crucial exhibition for our time. Patience is a bit of a must with his paintings, but they pay incredible dividends when you exist with them for a given period. Though even if they do not excite you or keep you at arm’s length, the objects fixed on these deep black walls transcend acrylic on wood. Their sheer materiality itself ignites a reinterest in painting as they allow for a momentary or lengthy re-ideation of how the medium ought to be approached, especially in a uniquely peculiar time for not only art but society at large.

Pearl Lines shows now at The Modern Institute, Aird's Lane, Glasgow. The exhibition runs through 16/01/21


Download the Darby English essay on Walter Price (courtesy of Green Naftali gallery) The Fluid Part (2020).