Intimations of Immortality
Michael Price: Clothing the Contemporary Nude in Renaissance Color
Inquisitive, determined to understand pertinent aspects of color, the much-traveled artist Michael Price brings to his energetic, expressionist art the patience of a scholar. For many years now, beginning in the period from 1990 to 1991, Price has been developing his colors by grinding minerals; the resulting hues are far more radiant — and dif cult to make — than the store- bought commercial colors that are available. After 14 years of deliberate experimentation, the artist now works with semiprecious colors such as lapis lazuli, as well as the extensive use of gold leaf. Indeed, Price’s current research nds him studying the paintings of the medieval and early Renaissance periods, in order to understand the luminous hues over gold grounds that add so much to the work from those times. Scholarly issues concerning such old masters as Memling, Raphael, and Michelangelo have lead Price to work with the model; since the early 1990s, life drawing has been central to his artistic process.
For this solo show, Price has produced signature works that do justice to his studies, yet are original and contemporary. His interest in natural and mineral pigments as materials and the nude gure as subject matter has resulted in art of a visionary nature, expressed through colors that are transcendently beautiful in their own right. Additionally, his gurative forms recall the high culture of the Renaissance. In the cover image, Chromatic Sequence No. 17, Intimations [Hints] of Immortality (2009), Price has painted a diptych — a dark panel on the left, with ame-like forms issuing upward against a gold ground; and a brighter panel on the right, with a beautiful sky of lighter and darker views, offset by a nude female gure with her back turned to the viewer, who looks off into space and is met by the massive presence of dark forms on the right. The proper adjective for Price’s synthesis of opposing colors and forms might well be “Dantean,” so intense are the colors that communicate the composition’s strong feeling. Price returns to the gure on a regular basis, using the nude not only as the basis for his historical studies, but also as a way of bringing forward representational form in a timeless fashion.
A Part of Eternity No. 46, More Yang than Yin (2009) continues Price’s search for the pictorial sublime, again with a double-panel construction. A nude male gure derived from the Barberini Faun with his head raised arches back into what looks like a mass of clouds on the left, while on the right more of the clouds and some small squares of color occupy a gold leaf ground. Steeped as he is in the tradition of Western painting, Price calls on certain gurative traditions of the Renaissance to balance and center his art. But even though the art does look to history for its expressiveness, Price manages to de ne a visual idiom that is all his own. In Chromatic Sequence No. 9, Uncharted Territory (2008), we see a nude on the left, against a gold ground. She gazes off to the right of the painting, which is lled with red, gold, and gray ribbons of color — uncharted territory whose abstract qualities contrasts well with the beautifully realized forms of the female nude. Price, always meticulous, manages to convey here and elsewhere his love of art, so that his paintings look back even as they present new ideas. The results are compelling.
Jonathan Goodman is a writer based in New York City. He has written for such publications as Art in America, Sculpture, and ArtCritical. He is currently teaching at Pratt Institute and Parsons School of Design.