Life & Times
Tony Price - Atomic Artist
essays by James Rutherford
     Obsessive artist, counter-culture icon, compassionate father, sage - Tony Price (1937-2000) was a complex man who touched the lives of countless individuals and deeply affected everyone who knew him. His life and career was a journey of self-discovery and a quest for objectivity.
     Tony and his fraternal twin brother Ted, were born in Brooklyn, New York where they would spend their early childhood with father, Thomas Edward Price, a stockbroker, mother Katherine, and sister Carolyn. The family then moved to Pelham Manor, NY where Tony went to grade school and to junior high. “Our father died when we were 12. (Mother) went back to work when our father died, first at Fortune Magazine and subsequently as a bond broker and later a banker as well as homemaker. Two or three years after
father died, Mother married Frederick Henry Allen, a partner in the architectural firm of Harrison, Ballard and Allen in NY, and we moved to 49 East 86th Street” recalled Tony’s brother Ted. At this time, along with stepbrother Sandy Allen, the three boys went away to school; Tony to South Kent, Ted to The Hill School, and Sandy, to the Kent School. From very early in his life Tony’s skills as an artist and musician were recognized by his family and peers. His drawings were published in the school newspaper and sought after by his fellow students and his skills as a musician continued to develop.
     Author and cartoonist Jonathan Richards, who was at South Kent with Tony around 1952, recalled Tony as “sort of a legendary figure, even in his middle teens. He had kind of an aura about him. I remember what captivated me most about Tony was that he was a cartoonist and that was something I had designs on. I remember finding some drawings on poster board that he had discarded in the wastebasket. I’m not sure now what they were but I can just remember that they were a lot better than anything I could do. The thing, of course, that 
attracts you more than anything else at that age is somebody who seems to really be able to give the finger to authority and not care what happens to them. And that’s what happened to Tony”.
     After high school, Tony’s cantankerous spirit led his mother and stepfather to suggest he consider joining the Marines. Fred Allen had served in the Marines and subsequently both brothers became Marines as well. Tony later joked that his induction papers were the last piece of paper he ever signed. During his stint in the service, which
included a tour of duty in Lebanon, his talents as an artist were quickly discovered by military brass and he spent much of his enlistment painting their portraits and large murals for Marine Corps facilities and events.
     After his discharge in 1960, Price lived at various times in New York, Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende. He used his graphic skills to illustrate the novels, poetry and periodicals of the just-awakening underground culture and exhibited his work at numerous avant-garde galleries in New York City and Woodstock. Hugh Romney (aka Wavy Gravy) was serving at the time, along with Tony’s childhood friend John Brent (of Second City and The Committee fame), as a poetry director for the famous Gaslight Café
in New York. He remembers those days as a “teenage beatnik” and seeing Tony’s art of that time: We were all skipping around on MacDougal Street in the West Village. (Tony) would sit in the coffee house and he would draw these amazingly complicated and beautiful drawings of children with all eternity in their eyes and hair flowing like rivers. And they’d be sitting on the grass and there’d be tiny little people peeking out and doing things. All these wonders lurking in the background - It wasn’t just the foreground object”.

Price w/Morty Breier in Rome,
c. 1965
     Tony was elected a member of the Woodstock Artist Association in 1962 and became friends with many important figures on the scene including Woodstock promoters Albert Grossman and John Court and a young musician named Bob Dylan. Price left for Europe in 1963 to discover his own artistic motivations and from 1963 to 1965 he lived at various times in Madrid, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Rome, Tangier, Naples and Barcelona. Longtime friend, Morty Breier, remembers Tony as “the quintessential hipster. (Tony) didn’t seem to have any concerns for his own future or what was happening next …he lived completely in the moment. He showed me what it was to be an enlightened soul.
     Tony sold or bartered his work to keep him going while befriending, learning from and teaching the hundreds of spiritual seekers who were wandering the European cityscapes during that period. With his hypnotic opened-tuned rhythmic guitar, magical stories of “hipsters” on the road and his elaborate drawings, he became a legend.
     In the mid-1960’s Tony’s travels lead him to the vibrant hippie scene in the Bay Area. It was there that he reconnected with his childhood friend John Brent who was at the time, along with people like Lenny Bruce, part of the early stand-up comedy craze in San Francisco clubs such as the Purple Onion. In 1966, outside of an art show at the Psychedelic Shop on Haight Street, Tony met Reno Meyerson, a member of the musical commune The Jook Savages. He remembers Tony as “one of those brilliant individuals who had it all figured out – deeply insightful and compassionate. He had an ability to make people feel as if they were his best friend in life.” In 1967 Tony visited Reno in a little town called El Rancho, New Mexico just down the hill from Los Alamos, birthplace of the Atomic bomb. The following year Tony moved into a friend’s house there, where his first child, Maya (aka Roseanna), was born. “Everybody’s probably drawn to every spot and they have no idea how it happens to them. And it took me years to kind of settle down out here and see what was really going on.” Price said.

Price w/Shel Silverstein & unidentified saw-player, San Franicisco, c. 1967