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Transformative artist Ken Price dies in NM at 77
Transformative ceramic artist Ken Price dies at his home in Taos at 77
By The Associated Press

TAOS, N.M. (AP) ' Ken Price, an internationally known artist whose glazed and painted clay blurred the lines between ceramics and sculpture, is being remembered for his humor, his love of natural shapes and for the long hours he spent in the studio perfecting what became a style all his own.

Family and friends gathered at his studio in Taos to share their stories Sunday following his death Friday morning at his home in Taos. By Monday, the makeshift memorial of flowers and notes at The Harwood Museum of Art, where one of his installations is on exhibit, continued to grow.

A hand-written note tucked under one of the bouquets summed it up: "A life well lived..."

Price's death at age 77 was first reported by The Los Angeles Times ( ). Friend and fellow artist Larry Bell confirmed Price's death with The Associated Press on Monday.

Price had struggled with tongue and throat cancer for several years, but friends said he continued working despite being ill.

Inside his studio, there were four works in progress and current notes and drawings on lying on his desk.

"He was just one of those artists who just worked. That's what he did, that's what he lived and breathed," said Jina Brenneman, a ceramist herself and the curator at The Harwood. It was Price who inspired her to come to Taos. "

The debate among art critics and historians about whether Price's colorful, organic pieces were more sculpture than ceramic art was not something that concerned him as he worked in his studios in Taos and Venice, Calif.

One of the reasons he was able to elevate ceramics to such a high level is because the medium eventually became an irrelevant part of his creative process, Brenneman said.

Bits of his personality, particularly his humor, also carried through to his work, said friend and fellow artist Larry Bell.

"The thing that was amazing about Kenny is how inventive he was with form and surface and color. He just invented these totally goofy shapes and then caressed them until they became just magnificent little objects," Bell told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

"He just kept working on extending that kind of direction ' that very personal, intimate relationship with his material ' until it took on an incredible life of its own," Bell said.

Price didn't see himself as a ceramist, but rather a sculptor, Bell said.

Before of his death, Price completed preparations for a 50-year retrospective scheduled to open at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art this fall.

In a post on its website, the museum said its entire community was saddened to learn of his death. It described his work as remarkable and innovative and said his pieces helped redefine the practice of contemporary sculpture.

From the spherical 1963 piece dubbed "L. Red" to "Zizi," which he completed in 2011, the classic elements of color and fluidity are always present in Price's work.

Born in Los Angeles in 1935, Price was known for his bright colors. Early on he used traditional means, such as glazing. He moved on to acrylic paint, which was enough to cause a stir among ceramic purists.

By the early 1960s, Price emerged as a seminal figure of the West Coast ceramic sculpture movement. His first solo exhibit was in 1960 at the famed Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, which nurtured Bell, Andy Warhol and other significant modern artists.

While Price's work has not been widely exhibited until relatively recently, the upcoming "Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective" will look at how his worked progressed over a career that spanned more than five decades. It will also explore the work of other artists who were inspired by him.

Stephanie Barron, senior curator of modern art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, told The Los Angeles Times: "Price's practice has remained resolutely original, challenging categorization and redefining contemporary sculpture."

At The Harwood in Taos, Price's "Death Shrine I" is on exhibition. The Mexican folk-inspired funerary alter sits behind a white picket fence. It's one of only three in existence and the only one on display for public viewing.

Brenneman called it an important installation within the history of Price's work. She gave up her office so that a new space could be created at the museum for the shrine.

The shrine was part of several years of work during the 1970s that went into a series of mixed-media installations dubbed "Happy's Curios," named for his wife, Happy Ward. The series includes the death shrines, drawings, paintings and pottery.

Price also created prints, drawings and even mescal labels for his friend Ron Cooper.

Brenneman said whatever the medium, Price's work was always meticulous, refined and witty.

Price is survived by Ward, their son Jackson and step-children Romy and Sydney.

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