Main image:

5 minutes with… Ken Price’s Izzy

Zoë Klemme, co-head of the Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Auction at Christie’s in London, on how the Los Angeles artist adapted a technique born of his surfing days to create ceramic sculptures that are, he insisted, ‘strictly for pleasure’ 

‘I first came across the work of Ken Price (1935-2012) last year, when I went to see the impressive survey of his oeuvre at Hauser & Wirth London,’ says Zoë Klemme, co-head of the Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Auction at Christie’s in London.

When she first encountered Izzy, Price’s 2005 ceramic figure, the specialist admits it was ‘love at first sight. It looked like molten lava, which gives it a kind of sensuality.’ On 7 March, Izzy will be offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Auction  at Christie’s in London. 

With its shimmering lumps and bumps, Izzy  perfectly exemplifies the biomorphic shapes and striking use of colour for which the artist is perhaps best known. Executed in the artist’s final decade, which he referred to as his ‘golden period’, it capped a career that began amid the artistic innovations of 1960s Los Angeles, his hometown. 

Price returned to Los Angeles in the 1990s, taking a professorship at the University of Southern California. His late works reflect an engagement with the geological grandeur of New Mexico, where he had lived in the 1970s and 1980s.

Ken Price (1935-2012), Izzy, 2005. 13⅜ x 13 x 13 in (34 x 33 x 33 cm). Estimate £120,000-180,000. This lot is offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Auction on 7 March 2018  at Christie’s in London

Ken Price (1935-2012), Izzy, 2005. 13⅜ x 13 x 13 in (34 x 33 x 33 cm). Estimate: £120,000-180,000. This lot is offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Auction on 7 March 2018 at Christie’s in London

The technique used in Izzy’s  execution, entirely Price’s own invention, set him apart from traditional ceramicists. To create the iridescent finish, Price applied thin layers of acrylic paint to the carefully-crafted ceramic form. A sculpture might have as many as 15 different colours on a single piece, making a total of 75 layers of acrylic paint.  

The surface was then sanded down, drawing out the colours hidden beneath and giving it a marbled appearance. ‘The result is curiously timeless, a fresh-born object with a life of its own,’ Klemme says.

As Price himself would later explain, ‘The more they are sanded the larger and more connected the marks become. But they’re always different. The reason for the multiple layers of colour is so if you don’t like the way it looks you can sand deeper and open up a different colour scheme. But you can’t really control what the marks will do, they just happen.’

‘This technique in some ways recalls Price’s early days as a surfer in California, when he used to sand down his surfboards,’ Klemme notes. Indeed, Price characterised his work as ‘strictly for pleasure’, and the pure fun of his objects is recognisable across his career.

Izzy  was originally exhibited in 2006 at the Matthew Marks Gallery in New York, one year after its execution,’ Klemme says. ‘It has never been offered at auction before, and we’re excited to be able to offer it in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Auction. We want to introduce Price to a wider audience, and offering this work in London for the first time is a great opportunity.’