JOSEF ALBERS / KEN PRICE
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 itself.
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
KP: [looking 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
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 work.