British artist Thomas J Price on dealing with issues of power, representation and perception in his work
For more than two decades, Thomas J Price has been challenging the expectations and assumptions of those who encounter his art. Working predominantly in sculpture, Price also engages the mediums of film and photography. He approaches his subjects both intuitively and conceptually: observing the individual in a fleeting moment, responding to stereotypes perpetuated by the media, and drawing on the canon of art history. For Price, these varied sources channel ‘all these moments of truth into one thing that had to then represent this truth.’
Price’s constructed figures are intentionally ambiguous. He refers to them as ‘experiments in empathy.’ The sculptures provide few insights into the identity of his fictional characters. ‘They really are a psychological portrait, but a portrait of the viewer,’ Price explains. This process of self-analysis invites the viewer to call upon ‘their understandings, their schemas, their set of values which they use to navigate the world around them.’
Price’s critical investigation of these concepts extends beyond the content of sculpture, engaging form through the use of material techniques and modes of display that question social and artistic conventions. Materials and methods used in Greek and Roman statuary are combined with 3D scanning and modelling to generate transhistorical forms; aluminium and polyurethane are juxtaposed with gilded bronze and marble pedestals. Price rarely casts his figurative works at a one-to-one scale; the size variations foster an interplay with the ‘understanding of monument that permeates society, and what grand is, and what power is, and where something like that should exist, and who should exist in that form.’
This desire to understand and respond to what is going on under the surface of deep social tensions extends to Price’s work in performance, film and animation. ‘Man 10’ (2011), a stop-motion animation, engages with the history of racialization, drawing upon Price’s own lived experience and commonplace observations. One of his abstract sculptures, ‘Power Object (Section 1, No.1)’ (2018), operates in the gap between viewers’ conditioned perceptions of power and the real-world effects of power in the form of the racial disparity of police stop-and-search policies.
Price’s most recent nine-foot bronze figure, ‘The Distance Within’ (2021), installed in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park in New York, continues his exploration of Blackness and Black masculinity, asking the viewer to consider what is projected onto Black bodies as they move in the world. Whether encountered in a gallery or in public, Price’s works focus the viewer’s attention on the nuances of systemic marginalization, ‘shaking their very understanding the world around them, their place in it, and making them reconsider all their thoughts about things they've done.’ His personal approach readdresses historic narratives and inverts our sense of the familiar, distilling signifiers of status to question the mechanisms that reinforce our cultural values.
Thomas J Price’s first exhibition with Hauser & Wirth, ‘Thoughts Unseen,’ is on view in Somerset, 2 October 2021 – 3 January 2022. ‘Thomas J Price: Witness’ presented by The Studio Museum in Harlem, is on view at Marcus Garvey Park, New York, 2 October 2021 – 2 October 2022. Price has been commissioned to create a public artwork in Hackney in 2022, commemorating the Windrush generation.