Excerpts from Conversation
between Ken Price and Brooke Alexander
BA I'll tell you what started me on this project - I don't remember
exactly who told me this, I think it was Henry Hopkins, who said that
on an early visit he saw an Albers
print hanging on the studio wall.
KP Yes, I had one from Tamarind. I had it framed and it was up
in my studio for years. I have a set of Albers silk-screens, which I got
from Irving Blum in the 60's. There are about ten of them, they're wonderful.
And I was impressed by the painting the L.A. County Museum had; a little
canvas that was essentially blue, black, and white
I always thought
Albers was the most authentic in terms of color theories. His was
the real theory, because it was based on practice. He was the guy who
really dealt with the colors, and that was it. And it was a natural thing,
color that lives on its own. It doesn't need any support from imagery,
or art history, or any of that stuff
It's like music, it stands by
BA What attracted you to Mexico and the Southwest?
KP When I grew up, L.A. had more of a Mexican look and feel to
it. At least I thought so. Maybe I was attracted to brightly colored stuff,
and Mexicans are not afraid of color. When I was young there was lots
of handmade pottery from Mexico around L.A., and later I got into curio
stores in Tijuana, which were filled with pottery from Oaxaca, Tonala,
and other parts of Mexico. And a lot of it was great. I think that was
one of the high moments in folk pottery. But it was already dying because
the potters couldn't make a living. And when people learned how much lead
was in the glazes, that really finished it off.
In the 70's with "Happy's Curios" I tried to make a kind of
homage to the Mexican Wares, not to make direct copies, but pieces that
were in the spirit of the Mexican pottery.
BA It seems to me this sensibility continues; the recent lava drawings
might be Hawaii, but the high-keyed color strikes me as tilting toward
a Mexican sensibility.
KP That's right. The color thing, it's very intuitive; it's not
some sort of formula. It's how they feel, really. That's why I had an
affinity with the Mexican artists: it's (the way they use) color.
BA Was there a particular thing you were thinking about when you
made the drawing?
KP If there was, I certainly don't remember, but it looks like
Mexican linoleum or tiles
BA Well, as I got into the relationship between your and Albers'
work, it occurred to me that there was a kind of parallel thinking coming
from opposite ends. In other words, your Mexican sources were inexpensive
curio shop ceramics and the graphics of clichéd tourist posters
and Albers was coming from his
interest in Pre-Columbian artifacts, and Aztec/Mayan ruins- what we might
call the "high" art side. And, somehow, the forms and colors
that both of you derived from Mexican culture end up having a certain
relationship. That, to me, was very interesting because it comes from
polar extremes of the cultural spectrum.
KP Right. I probably wouldn't have said Albers
before, but it's similar. In this context, it's obvious.
BA In a similar way, I saw a relationship between some of your
drawings and prints and a group of Albers'
work called Structural Constellations. For example these interior scenes
that have a city view where, as you look at it, the eye is led out the
window and back again. To my mind, there is a similar circular experience
in looking at Albers' Structural
at the catalog] Yes, I like the comparison here
I remember this
scene; this was right out the window in Venice. I made a lot of these
drawings, just looking out the window. I love that vantage point, of being
sort of up, seeing all of L.A. from the second story.
BA One thing that we haven't approached at all is color. And I
noticed these color charts beside the works in progress, and one I counted
has 14 colors. What is your process?
KP Most of them have 14 colors
now. The pieces start off with a grainy surface. And they get painted
with lots of thinly brushed coats of a sequence of colors. And after they've
been painted enough they get sanded so that the surface becomes smooth
and marks appear from the colors underneath. The more they are sanded
the larger and more connected the marks become. But they're always different.
The reason for the 14 colors is so if you don't like the way it looks
you can sand deeper and open up a different color scheme. But you can't
really control what the marks will do, they just happen.
BA Do you ever have second thoughts about earlier work in the sense
that when you look at it now, you have a different take on it or that
you remembered it differently?
KP I've been making artworks for over 50 years now and can't always
remember what I was thinking or feeling in the past. Occasionally I'm
confronted with something I must have made but don't recognize at all.
And I'm assuming that memories of earlier works are enhanced or distorted,
but I don't have second thoughts about it, or regrets if I don't like
it. I'm too involved in what I'm doing now to worry about it. I'm really
enjoying the process of making my new