Pearl Lines was the first institutional exhibition in the UK by American artist Walter Price
It followed his residency at Camden Art Centre in early 2020 when, in response to his time in London and the conditions of the studio space, he experimented with scale, narrative and materials to create new paintings, works on paper and sculptures. In the exhibition Price presents elements of this body of work, alongside a group of new paintings and drawings made during lockdown in New York.
Employing a highly developed sense of both line and composition, Price incorporates familiar forms and recurring motifs including palm trees, bathtubs, sofas, hats and automobiles; a language of very personal signs and symbols, deployed amid shifting horizon lines and bright fields of colour. Across his work he blurs the boundaries between collective history and individual memory, figuration and abstraction, depicting uncertain urban and domestic landscapes populated by the suggestion of people, objects, images and text.
As a title, Pearl Lines might allude to the assured, expressive marks with which he describes his glossary of figures, faces, tracks and traces – a language of lines and forms that operates almost like a kind of writing or graphology; but it speaks too to a narrative quality in the work – the lines or trails of thought, of stories, the yarns we spin. Drawing is a fundamental and central part of Price’s practice, of equal importance to painting, and the works on paper included here demonstrate a speed and directness of mark-making, as well as a restless sense of transformation, instability and change.
Many of the paintings were made in New York during the first COVID-19 lockdown, in that moment of unprecedented global crisis when everything was slowed, suspended, emptied out and made strange. Price kept working, but he made the decision not to purchase more paints and materials instead using up whatever he had in the studio, drawing out and extending the dregs of his paints by mixing them with white. It was an economy of thrift. A reaction to his own exhaustion, as well as to the impulse to keep buying, keep consuming, to that relentless cycle of waste and excess, of over-production and over-consumption, which had been so abruptly paused. But it also introduced a more muted palette to Price’s work – of pale pastels, soft pinks, chalky whites.
As well as the art-historical legacies of colour that Price draws on so adeptly throughout his practice, there is also a politics of colour which grounds these works even deeper into the moment of their making. Price has spoken about the ‘whiteness’ of many of the spaces he is invited to occupy, and of his position as a Black man and a Black artist within these. For this show he wanted to ‘dance with that whiteness’, formally incorporating it into certain works as a blank square or void; playing off the walls of the gallery itself; as well as allowing it to mix with the colours and characters and images and objects that flood, flow and blaze across his pictures.