I’m always interested in the importance that sculptors attach to drawing; they seem such different skills: the hand eye coordination and precision needed to convey a three dimensional object on a flat surface compared with the physicality of moulding, building or carving. Google the subject and you find some sculptors claim only to draw in order to demonstrate ideas to potential purchasers and gain commissions whilst for others it is a vital and intrinsic part of the process. For Ken Price, the Los Angles ceramicist whose work is being shown by Hauser & Wirth in a major retrospective, it was essential. Price, who died in 2012, is quoted as saying that he was at his happiest when drawing but it was also the way he clarified his thinking. “I think sculptors learn to draw so that they can see what they have been visualising,” he said, “because if you can’t draw it, you can’t see it”
So strong is the tactility of his works that without this quotation I might have expected him to be more absorbed with how the works would feel in his hands. But at Hauser & Wirth there is the proof that it was drawing which drove his creativity. The curators have divided his works between the two Savile Row galleries; in the first are the small pieces from his early career, cups, bowls and jugs, playful and colourful as well as paintings and drawings. Price was clearly an outstanding draftsman as shown in what are described as snail cups, though another adjective would have been equally applicable. But other drawings were the equivalent of notes, apparently quickly sketched, almost diagrammatical, with instructions to himself about colour or texture.
In the second gallery you find the sculptures, larger pieces displayed on a series of plinths. They create a feeling of ambivalence in the viewer; in part one longs to run one’s fingers over them but they also evoke inhibition. Many have a strongly sexual quality so that it is not just the general gallery prohibition against touching artworks that keeps viewer’s hands at a distance, rather the feeling that the sculptures themselves are sentient and would regard it as unwanted intimacy.
If the shapes suggest the human, or perhaps an alien body, the colours are far from natural. These subtle and extraordinary effects were achieved by layers of colour that Price alternatively applied and removed, so that it appears not so much a created surface but part of the work’s fundamental structure. And often, as in this piece above, and suggested in one of the drawings, there appears a small strange black geometric shape – which tempts the observer to put out a cautious finger to discover if it is an indentation and to ponder its meaning.
Ken Price , A Survey of Sculptures and Drawings, 1959 -2006, is showing at Hauser & Wirth until 4 February at 23 Savile Row,London W1S 2ET