Thomas J Price’s multidisciplinary practice confronts preconceived public attitudes towards representation and identity. Price challenges power structures that govern our society whilst examining learnt behavior that guides our unconscious. His inaugural exhibition with Hauser & Wirth in Somerset, presents two decades of conceptual enquiry spanning film, early sculpture, and the artist’s largest figurative bronze to date. His personal approach readdresses historic narratives and inverts our sense of familiarity, distilling signifiers of status to question the mechanisms in place that reinforce our cultural values.
Using methods of presentation, material and scale, Price explores expectations and assumptions, simultaneously drawing the viewer in whilst considering the space we create between ourselves and the work itself. Upon entering the first gallery, visitors will encounter ‘Reaching Out’ (2020), the artist’s widely celebrated public sculpture situated on The Line, London and The Donum Estate, California, installed within a gallery context for the first time. The larger-than-life figurative work will stand alongside a new towering 12ft bronze, ‘All In’ (2021), each capturing ‘in-between’ moments of everyday contemporary subjects. Manifested from composite images, the fictional characters function as psychological portraits that despite their scale appear unassuming and instantly recognizable. The works focus our attention on the systemic marginalization within public monuments, constructed through the artist’s hybrid approach of traditional sculpting and intuitive digital technology.
This referencing of art history continues in Price’s long-established preoccupation with ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian traditions of monumental sculpture, alongside an intrinsic understanding of the symbolic power and hierarchy of materials. In ‘Numen (Shifting Votive 1, 2, 3)’ (2016) Price combines classical lost-wax casting with aluminium, a material more commonly associated with modern engineering, to present a series of emblematic heads raised to eye-level on marble columns. Dispersed throughout the two galleries, the works embody archetypal objects of worship in a modern age, whilst uncovering the haptic depths of Price’s expanding range of mediums. Similarly, ‘Icon Series’ (2017) adopts gilding, a technique which dates to Ancient Egypt and amplifies a sense of luxury and splendor, alongside 3D printing. Placed on quartzite plinths the sculptures exude a powerful cultural resonance, challenging our awareness of current iconography and unmediated immortalization of triumphant figures. Price’s Icons gaze beyond the viewer consumed in their own thoughts and emotional worlds, reframing the image and associations of Black men in contemporary society today.
Whilst the majority of Price’s oeuvre relates more closely to the male figure, ‘Lay It Down (On The Edge of Beauty)’ (2018) marks a poignant shift towards female identity and a shared Black experience. Placed within the entrance to the second gallery, the work extends Price’s line of enquiry into deities, illuminating universal threads within popular culture, media and fashion that relate to aspects and signifiers of Black womanhood. Spotlighting the stigma associated with hairstyles and formal conventions of beauty, as well as the lack of acknowledgment when they are reappropriated outside of their true origin.
Harnessing the narrative power of performance, film and animation has been a consistent element throughout the artist’s career to date. ‘Man 10’ (2011), a stop-motion animation, demonstrates an early desire to respond to the history of racialisation and magnifies the complexities of deep social tensions. Drawing upon his own lived experience and commonplace observations, Price elevates our awareness of physiognomies and unconscious forms of communication. ‘From the Ground Up’ (2016), a 26-minute dual monitor film work, repeats the meticulous action of slowly lacing, polishing and cleaning footwear, framed by a stark white background. The multi-faceted self portrait of the artist speaks as much about his own identity as it does the material culture and value we place on objects and social cues more broadly.
This theme is extended in new modes of display within both ‘Power Object (Section 1, No.1)’ (2018) and ‘Sonic Work (Collective Palette #01)’ (2020/21), installed centrally within the second gallery. The two distinctly abstract bronze works share an aesthetic of 20th century modern masters, critiquing an art historical canon that has contributed to the objectification and misinterpretation of Black male identity. With ‘Power Object (Section 1, No.1)’ the title itself manipulates the dichotomy between our conditioned perception of power alongside the racial disparity of Britain’s stop and search policy, ‘Section 1, No.1’.