The Timeless Nude – Michael Price
Throughout history, the nude, whether male or female, when expressed as a unity of imagination and perception, invariably exhibits a dignity which far removes it from social concepts of nakedness. With each age, the nude whether in painting or sculpture has undergone its own transformation becoming modified and redefined in the process. My personal development and redefinition of the nude focuses on the “perception” that our corporeality is an extension of a transcendent reality. This relationship between body, spirit and soul has been a theological preponderant for almost two thousand years.
The Real and the Imaginary
C. G. Jung wrote in ‘Mysterium Coniunctionis’ (vol. 14 of his collected writings): “The existence of a transcendental reality is indeed evident in itself, but is uncommonly difficult for our consciousness to construct intellectual models which would give a graphic description of the reality we have perceived”. My insight into this fundamental issue has changed over the years from my dynamic ephemeral figures of the 1980’s to my most recent polychromatic nudes which attest this basic precept that the archetypal world inside ourselves is just as real – or imaginary – as the physical world we inhabit.
Drawing from the life model plays a central role in my working process. The work with each model explores that individual’s kinaesthetic awareness through undirected and spontaneous movement. Each drawing session thus becomes a minimalist theatre of the imagination. The drawings are quickly executed using bamboo pens, bistre or Chinese ink and wash on paper. The life drawings as well as the study of ancient Greek sculptures and improvisations with ink and pigments essentially inform the paintings in order to explore the parameters of the nude and figure as an archetype.
The archetype is not a thing in itself, but an experience. I therefore view my work with the figure over the past 30 years and the polychromatic nudes since the early 1990’s not as a representation of the phenomenal world, but as an autonomous numinous experience. Through the poetry of Euclidean geometry, the structural foundation for a composition is established. This allows the message carried within the image to attain its maximum impact and resonance to unveil the memory of our immortality reflected from the mortal perspective.
The natural and mineral pigments I use produce a very different palette of colour and luminosity compared to modern synthetic pigments whether as oil or tempera paint. The pigments include lapis lazuli, azurite, malachite, cinnabar, orpiment, realgar, vivianite, purpurite, red and green jaspers, stibnite, cerussite and calcite. Other natural pigments include natural indigo, the root madders, cochineal red, and earth and ochre pigments. Since 2008, pure gold leaf provides the perfect complement for the chromatic values of natural pigments. I have published three papers on mineral pigment preparation and application since 2000 including the journal “Leonardo” (MIT press). This is the result of over 20 years of studio and archival research into the European Renaissance palette as well as collaboration with numerous scientific institutes.
The human figure or the nude is a symbol for the ultimate concern of ‘being’ and ‘non-being’. The nude is ontologically the richest of symbols, with infinite depth, and challenges us with all its levels of complexity. As being incorporates non-being, so the figurative incorporates the abstract. From my point of view, there can be no duality just as life incorporates death. This ontological position allows my inner vision to focus on the inherent and astonishing beauty of nature and to transcribe my experience into a rich and imaginative language.
The Immortal Spirit of Nature
“The intimate relationship between our physical and spiritual health and the physical condition of our environment has become an incontestable fact. The New York artist Michael Price presents this “essential ground of being” in his figurative paintings which focus on the most elevated of all nature’s creations, the nude. In addition to his “nudes of the spirit”, the artist occasionally extends his vision of archetypal beauty into landscape. Drawing in general and drawing from the life model plays a central role in the artist’s working process. The model is asked to move spontaneously without any instruction from the artist. Each drawing session thus becomes the equivalent of a minimalist theatre of the imagination to explore that model’s kinaesthetic awareness. The drawings of the model’s arrested movement are quickly executed using bamboo pens, bistre or Chinese ink and wash on paper. The drawings of either the model or a sketch of a landscape essentially inform the paintings.
The works on panel are all painted with natural colour. In his lectures, the artist presents his twenty years of research into the colours of the Renaissance. Michael Price produces the majority of his pigments from rocks and crystals. The colours include the exquisite blues of lapis lazuli and azurite, the reds of cinnabar and red jasper, the greens of malachite, green jasper and vivianite, and the yellows and oranges of orpiment and realgar. Even colours unknown to the modern era such as the metallic greys and blacks of stibnite and pyrolusite – known to have been used by Perugino and Raphael – have now been revived by Michael Price. Over the past two years, pure gold leaf has become central to the artist’s palette.”
— Michael Price
Poems inspired by Michael Price‘s work
After Intimations of Immortality, by Amy Meng
There are no barns to light,
no blazing horses run wild through the street.
In a field of gold, she is the only thing that burns,
that blackens, that does not become gold again.
Metal melts into metal,
but fire breaks apart atoms in the skin,
changing fast into smoke—
feet lifting off ground,
lifting dark and heavy into air
like a flock of starlings shepherded by the wind.
Yet, there is always something
closer to flesh than gold.
Something torn open,
that is not lit or charred or smoking,
but like worms mouthing the earth,
soft stomachs turning dirt back into dirt,
making more and more of itself.
Stillness and Flight, by Amy Meng
Watching you dress for the last time,
there is a certain grace in the motion
cast by the shadow of leaving.
Somehow, as you crane your neck down
to button your shirt
there are swans,
or the painting of swans
trapped in dripping oils, bursting from a lake.
Everything about you is momentarily
stillness and flight, the heroic rise of wings
that never descend.
People go to libraries and museums
to see the same animals housed
in the same traps
over and over again.
They fall in love with creatures of the soul
that prowl between margins and frames
and believe that they, too,
can house such glory.
But you, who are made from jungles of the living
world, are too precious to save.
There are continents in you that appear
and vanish each time your hand brushes your cheek.
Every day a species goes extinct.
Even as you exhale, pulling on your jacket
and shoes, part of you is being lost
like water shaken into air.
Oh—still your untamed, dying self.
“I chose to write about Intimations of Immortality, partly because it was the title work of the exhibition. I noticed that much of the work is covered in gold leaf, with the two distinct exceptions being the woman and the patch of blue on the right panel. The blue seems like a reprieve from the gold that covers most of the canvas; the woman, who seems to gaze into the patch of blue, also emphasizes this section. I tried to describe not only the image, but also a possible meaning behind the image (in this case the relation between the woman, the section of blue, and all the gold leaf). After this had resolved into the first sentence of my poem: “In a field of gold, she is the only thing that burns,” I began to focus more on the poem itself, referencing the painting to guide the direction of the poem.”
New Year, New Moon
after Moon of Gold by Michael Price
I know you, moon. You pulled
on my accordion like the tide, squeezed
each note as the Mississippi delta
breathed in and out, in and
out, lifting my heart, lifting my palms
to night sky, feet naked and dancing
across dewy grass, aware each moment
may be my last. I drowned in the
swirls of night sky, learned to curtsy on cue,
always one step ahead of the music.
I leapt to highs and fell to lows,
collapsed under fiddle wailing
and full moon howling overhead.
I know you, moon, orbiting one year
to pause in my garden, full and gold
to celebrate of new year, shining.
Here I am, moon. I am watching.
I am waiting for fireworks and midnight,
explosions across your sky, each flash screaming
GOODBYE before falling into the river,
extinguished by water, old year collapsing
into a shallow grave while I cling
to river banks, left leg submerged in the current
and right arm waving wildly, goodbye.
Eden the Color of Pennies
After Eternal Garden (2009) by Michael Price
Eden the color of pennies, of wishes skipped across a fountain
or stream, we feed our dreams like goldfish, ask Eve
who stands tall as the tiger lilies guarding her eternal garden,
sentries of sunlight and shade, of brown and gold,
all begging she keep her lips fastened shut.
I think of you and the night we slept beside a river,
tall sycamore trees; burrs pricked the softest parts of our feet
and when we waded in the river, searching for something
we did not understand, minnows nibbled on our toes.
We skipped stones as big as peaches, just to see the splash.
Despite river’s warnings, I bit into a peach, juice running
down my chin, hands folded in prayers asking I capture
this moment in oils and gold, eternal orchard of sweetness.
But we had to leave and I tossed lilies into the current, pulled
downstream like memories, hands brushing, our pants rolled up
to the knees.
We collected the pits in our pockets like pennies,
weighting each step as we rambled upriver, chasing foxes
into auburn sunset. I became Eve, bronzed hair blowing in auburn breeze.
“There are two difficult scenarios when it comes to writing poems: having too much to say, or not having anything to say at all. I’ve found the best way to remedy these problems is to turn to other forms of art for inspiration. When I have a tone or feeling swimming around in my mind but can’t figure out a context, I like to sit down in front of a piece of visual art and see if it speaks to me. The story usually presents itself easily.
When I came to Alfa a few weeks ago to write, I was particularly inspired by Michael Price’s two pieces, The Eternal Garden andMoon of Gold. I was fascinated by the colors in The Eternal Garden as well as the title. I imagined the figure in the painting as Eve and then created a speaker who could solve the mystery as to why Eve stood alone.
As for Moon of Gold, I had many images of this past New Year’s Eve in my head that I could not work into a finished piece. Once I saw the painting of a figure reaching toward the moon in such a vulnerable position, I worked her story and my story together in a sort of letter addressing the moon, since the figure could never physically touch it.”