Monterey Museum of Art
C. S. Price: Landscape, Image and Spirit
by Mary Murray, Curator, Monterey Museum of Art
The current exhibition at the Monterey Museum of Art brings to the Peninsula artwork which exemplifies how, through art, we can see the world with new eyes. C. S. Price: Landscape, Image and Spirit is a traveling exhibition of thirty-three paintings by an innovative and influential man who lived in Monterey from 1918 to 1929. Today C. S. Price is acknowledged as one of the first modernist painters on the West Coast, and, according to guest curator Roger Saydack, it was during his stay in Monterey that Price found his unique voice as an artist. The exhibition focuses on Price's paintings from this formative time in Monterey until his death in 1950, bringing together a number of his strongest works to create an exhibit which highlights Price's extraordinary talent.
For thirty years Price lived as a farmer and cowboy, homesteading in Wyoming and Canada, first with his family and then on his own. During this time he learned to look deeply at the world around him and turned to art in an attempt to express the feelings evoked by his observations. At the age of thirty-two Price traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, where he spent nine months at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts. He later worked as an illustrator, creating realistic depictions of the West for Pacific Monthly magazine. But for Price, illustration was just a job; although he gained skills during this period, ultimately, realistic depictions were unable to satisfy him. He had learned to capture what he saw, but he yearned to go beyond the visible, to capture and convey the actual experience of seeing.
Visiting San Francisco in 1915 and the early 1920s, Price was exposed to the work of Paul Cezanne and other European artists who had pushed beyond the barriers of realism to gain depth of expression. Looking for a community where he could immerse himself in art, Price moved to Monterey in 1918. From this time onward Price dedicated himself to being an artist, deliberately making choices that would support this goal. Price never married or had a real home, instead he lived simply with few possessions in rented rooms. In 1929 Price left Monterey for Portland, Oregon, where he lived for the rest of his life.
In his attempts to go beyond representing what is seen, Price simplified his paintings in a search for what he called "the one big thing. Instead of creating a specific representation-for example a horse, one of his favorite subjects-he would strive to paint the essence of a horse, its "horseness" so to speak. Because he has gone past the specific in order to find what lies at the heart of things, a painting by Price can move the viewer immensely. His expression of the inexpressible, the representation of what lies beyond the visible, is what captivates us.
The best art functions on this unseen level. Like great literature, music, or poetry, it takes us out of ourselves and allows us to momentarily feel the unity of all life. The rarity and value of such an experience inspires me to urge people to take advantage of this carefully selected exhibition of Price's work. Price's paintings are not difficult to like or to understand. His subject matter is simple, consisting mainly of landscapes, animals, and boats, while his rich, dark, carefully worked surfaces allow unique and extraordinarily expressive colors to emerge through layers of paint. Stylistically, some of his later work verges on abstract expressionism, but Price generously shares his explorations with his audience, never alienating, never leaving us entirely without ground under our feet.
Through his paintings, Price invites us on an inner journey, allowing us to explore the world with new eyes; those who choose to accept his quiet invitation will find it an enriching experience.
Resource Library editor's note:
Also see Clayton S. Price from Jennie V. Cannon: The Untold History of the Carmel and Berkeley Art Colonies, vol. one, East Bay Heritage Project, Oakland, 2012 by Robert W. Edwards
Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.
This page was originally published in 1999 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.
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