Life & Times
Tony Price - Atomic Art
essay by James Rutherford

     The power of art is that once someone makes it, the meanings of it leaves with their intention, but then it’s up to the person who receives. While he was not responding to the “art world”, Price’s overwhelming intention was to connect with people and his art certainly speaks for itself. It is important though, to place his work in a context among the important artists, and artistic traditions to which it relates. He can certainly be considered among others whose work ‘is defined by the act of recovering and transforming the detritus of the industrial age into hand made objects of renewed meaning, utility, devotion, and sometimes arresting beauty’. ‘What unites each of these transforming artisans is an ability to perceive in Western things certain possibilities of human value that the manufacturers never envisioned’. (Sheriff11) In cultures all over the world one can find examples of artists utilizing industrial discards to make art but it is the specific intention behind Price’s work and his chosen materials that may distinguish his work from others. “(Tony’s) a recycler, but he recycled with a purpose” (Ashman).
     By working with salvage obtained from this country’s nuclear weapons program, the materials become an integral part of Price’s statement and contribute to the many layers of meaning we find in his work. “It’s a little bit like sympathetic magic and how you would take an object and endow it with another type of creative energy from the purpose it was originally meant for. To take something that was really negative and build it into something positive”.(Price12) Price’s ability to wrest a different kind of energy from these materials confirms the idea that ‘recycling – or the process of borrowing, quoting, and recontextualizing objects, images, and ideas – is the best metaphor for the way in which meaning is constructed and understood in our contemporary world’. (Cubbs, Metcalf13)
     The juxtaposition of “primitive14” iconography and modern materials in Price’s work was a way of building a bridge between his world and the traditions of ancient cultures. This overlaying of symbols connects him to many of the important artists of the 20th century who were also being influenced by “primitive” art. This influence is traced to the beginning of the 1900’s, when artists began to assimilate “primitive” iconography into their own work, and continues to the present. ‘It is generally said that Primitive or tribal art was “discovered” sometime around 1905 by a group of French artists who later became known as the Fauves – Matisse, Derain, and Vlaminck’. (Flam15) The kind of object-to-object relationship we see in many of Price’s works illustrate a specific connection to early 20th Century artists like Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee, who created many works during this period that often bore the same kind of relationship. Although the materials and the purposes for invoking the energy of these “primitive” objects changed with the times, the resulting resonance with deep ancient rituals remains constant.

Zuni War God

Aztec God, Tlaloc

Mask - Congo, Africa

Paul Klee


Tony Price

Pablo Picasso

Tony Price - Atomic Art
essay by James Rutherford