The giant canvases of Arthur Price appear to be lost vestiges of another time. That seems fitting when you visit his studio on a small farm with gardens and horses right around the corner from the Galleria.
Price had to build his own studio, converting a farm shed, to accommodate the large scale of his works. He even devised his own pulley system to haul the paintings up and down as he works.
Everything is large and highly durable I noticed, as the dogs ran across a canvas left out drying in the sun. And the white wash that layers the paintings, gives them the appearance, especially given their size, of fading French tapestries from another age.
His father bought the small spread the year Price was born, and used it for the equine portion of his veterinary practice. And that no doubt affected the painter’s imagination with his larger than life images that can evoke an age of chivalry and troubadors, and faces that shine down through the ages with a classic grace--such as the only Egyptian female pharaoh, Hapshepsut. The work has been aptly described as having a fantastic legendary quality. He is usually not retelling actual myths or legends, though it often feels that way.
With the refined French post-renaissance, slightly rococo feel, it is surprising to hear that Price’s most strongly felt artistic influences come from Goya and William Blake. The images and personages are not dark but they are mythic.
Price practices his craft by painting fantastical metaphysical people. In a painting inspired by the Haiti earthquake, humans are overtly depicted in the form of spiritual otherwordly beings. The dead are present among the living. And the living stand like classic statuary in their own version of eternity. And those images exemplify the layering that exists in the painting. Price often even paints over earlier work, and the canvases have a palimpsest feel of many layers of color.
With the giant proportions and the huge canvases, one almost assumes that the works are in oil, but Price uses water-based paints. So no wonder they have a washed watercolor feel despite their dimensions. And Price literally paints with broad strokes, often using a housepainter’s brush. The white wash that gives the appearance of raw canvas showing through the light layers of paint actually comes from the gesso like coating the artist paints over the back of the canvases to give them enough support to carry the weight of their large surfaces. That coating bleeds through to the side of the images and Price accepts and incorporates this process as part of the image. The raw, somewhat unfinished work still manages a quite refined, dreamlike feel.
And, according to Price, the images and the palette are seasonal. The work hanging on the pulley system when I arrived started as an agave field in honor of Guillermo Castro and the fine tequilas he featured at Sol y Luna. But when the organizers selected another painting of a giant butterfly woman to honor the deceased at Día de Los Muertos (see Cover, Out of My Head, and Events Calendar), Price painted this one over and changed it to a boy riding his horse in with the grain harvest.
Price does not work from photos or actual stories. All these images come out of his head. It helps that he walks to work from the old farmhouse, though the flower gardens, to his rustic studio. Brightly colored dreams by day, deep darkness by the night of the mind.