As part of Orbis’ series of artist conversations around conservation, Thomas J Price discusses his work with Maxwell Malden, co-director of Orbis Conservation.
MM- From talking to you in the past, and seeing some of your work, what initially interests me are the materials that you chose to work with. As somebody who spends most of their career preoccupied with materials and their behaviour, this excites me.
How much time do you spend considering the longevity / compatibility of materials to use when beginning both your thought and fabrication process? Do you find this a hindrance or does it ever go on to inform your artistic decisions in a positive way?
TJP- Materials and their ability to transmute and convey meaning is very much at the heart of my work. Whilst the practicalities of the materials I use have to be taken into consideration at some point, the concept comes first and so if there are any special requirements then it’s usually a case of finding creative solutions once the work has been made.
MM - Most of your work also strikes me as being physically impressive, either through scale (Network), surface finish (the gilded busts you talked to us about) or in your choice of materials. Can you tell me a bit more about your fabrication/studio process? i.e. how do you set about creating complicated and varied types of work (studio assistants/training/specialists/engineers etc…)
TJP – As I mentioned, all my work begins with an idea / concept that could be described as a set of questions. The resulting work is effectively my attempt to answer those questions and so the process to do so can be varied. It’s very much studio led, with initial concepting, modelling, etc being done by myself. Once scale and materials have been decided upon I then know if it’s something I can complete on my own, or whether it involves specialist skills and equipment like that used in bronze casting or gold gilding with particular adhesive mediums.
MM - Have you had much interaction with conservators during your career so far?
TJP – Many of my outdoor pieces are inspected periodically so that they can be maintained to the highest standard. This is normally managed directly by the institution, or collector and so I don’t normally work with conservation specialists myself. I think that’s why it was an interesting experience to work directly with you when I was looking for advice on gilding.
MM - Where do you get your bronze sculptures cast? How involved are you with the process?
TJP – I’m very lucky to have a good relationship with London Bronze Casting who do nearly all my (UK) casting these days. I was at the Royal College with one of the founders and it’s been a very exciting to see how they have grown as a company and the enthusiasm they still have for taking on projects. They recently cast my aluminium bronze sculpture, “Power Object (Section One, No.1), that was shown at Frieze art fair. We worked very closely on that and they even did the installation, which was very useful. If you’re working with people who have the skills you can trust in it makes everything else flow so much better.
MM - It sounds like you have a really positive relationship with material specialists in your fabrication process, and that you value their contribution to your creative practice. Do you think you would still feel the same if somebody had to make an intervention in your work post fabrication, for instance if one of your sculptures was damaged in transit and had to be conserved in your absence? Would that intervention change the object for you in your mind once it had been conserved?
TJP - That's a difficult question to ask without knowing all the variables of an actual example, but generally speaking if I had confidence in the practical skills, and artistic awareness, of the specialist I'd be far more open to the idea of repairs being made in my absence, post sale.
Price’s work across media, encompassing sculpture, film and photography, is engaged with issues of representation and perception, in society and in art. His works all share a fascination with the minutiae of body language, facial expression and external presentation, and in turn, their ability to suggest a state of mind.
In 2009, Thomas J Price was featured alongside Grayson Perry, Michael Landy, Sir Anthony Caro and Cornelia Parker on the BBC 4 television documentary, Where is Modern Art Now?, presented by Gus Casely-Hayford. In 2010, he featured on BBC 4's How to Get A Head in Sculpture, also featuring Marc Quinn and Sir Anthony Caro. In 2010, Price was included in 10 Magazine's, Ten Sculptors You Should Meet,and was an invited artist at the Royal Academy Summer Show. In 2013, during his second solo show with Hales Gallery, Price presented his first large scale sculpture Network. The work subsequently was placed on display at the prestigious Yorkshire Scuplture Park, coinciding with Price's solo display at the Park (2014), and was selected for the 2015 inauguration of London's art walk The Line.
Selected solo exhibitions have been held at prestigious institutions including the National Portrait Gallery (London), Royal Academy of Arts (London), Mac Birmingham (UK), Royal College of Art (London), Yorkshire Sculpture Park (UK), Harewood House (UK) and Hales Gallery (London). Price’s work has also been included in shows in the US and Europe. Price's work is included in a number of private and public collections including Derwent London (UK), Murderme (UK) and the Rennie Collection (Canada).
Image © Thomas J Price, "Network", 2013, bronze, steel, automotive spraypaint, 9ft tall