Lucas Price Talks Dumb Poetry

Lucas Price is currently in the midst of Dumb Poetry, a new solo exhibition which launched at Lazarides Rathbone earlier this August.

The official gallery spiel reads like this: Using a combination of photorealism, hard-edged abstraction and text, the London-based artist has created a new series of paintings, drawings and sculptures. The exhibition deconstructs the traditional still life and opens up an intuitive line of enquiry into the complex relationships between object and language.

Talking to Lucas, we found that sometimes it’s not the objects themselves that are most important, but the elements that make up those objects. And then on a macro level, how those objects live and interact with other objects and the space around them. This is part of a new, flowing, and forward-looking system that Lucas has created for his work to exist in, one which is less restricted by conventional values, and more inclined to place opposites together to create something new and whole. Dumb Poetry, as it were.

Did you have an idea of how you wanted to set this exhibition up?

Well I hadn’t seen it all in the same room, so when we got it all down here it was all stretched – and I’d only ever seen parts of it unrolled and on flat pieces of canvas. So that was one part of it; I was kind of apprehensive about whether it would work in the first place. But when the work is stretched, from past experience, you sort of know when it’s right, without having a set idea. It just makes sense in terms of scale and rhythm. It was a case of pushing it all around and cancelling pieces out – there was lots more work in here, but space is as important as material.

Some of these works were printed, on which I’d never done before, they were screen printed over. The guys at the printing place hadn’t done that either so we didn’t really know how that would work. They came out alright, it just felt like they weren’t working as stand-alone images, so I wanted to do something more…


Where does the name Dumb Poetry come from?

When I was putting all of the imagery together I wanted to make like a system of material that was something that I could build on and re-purpose, moving forward. Like moving away from what I’d done in the past into a new system of ideas. Text, abstraction, colour, painting, sculpture. But it was like, why did I choose the objects? There’s so much discussion about the objects and subjects, and animism – like what objects talk about – but also being influenced by Ed Ruscha and that really reduced way of using language which is really simple but also profound and ornate. I guess it’s quite organic in a way, there’s not a very specific end point when I’m putting stuff together. But when I’m working things begin to make sense as I get into it, rather than working towards a destination. It’s a combination of those things, which then made me think about poetry, where you combine things that shouldn’t really be together, but are.

That’s the Ed Ruscha thing, where it’s snippets, rolling with language but making it click…

… Yeah exactly, it’s popping language out of its context. It’s percussive. For me that goes quite well with the imagery.

Strangely, it’s got an American West kind of feel because of the Ruscha vibe but then it’s also got the succulent plants and tyres and things.

Yeah, and basketballs and stuff like that. Maybe there’s something domestic there. There’s definitely an American influence there, which is fair enough, really.

PFC_2970 copy

Well, who isn’t influenced by America?

We are American. I wanted to introduce text because I like words and playing around with them. There are references to poets, and the way the titles work…

How do you conceptualise that? Do you sit down with a notepad?

Not really. I guess some words are more juicy than others, just like some objects are more juicy than others… I think it’s all got flavour and balance. Like, ‘savages’ is a really good word. There’s something queer about saying ‘savages’ but then you can also take it in all sorts of directions…

There’s that idea of dumbing something down, not to make it stupid, but almost so that there’s a kind of zen meditation on one simplified unit. Towards the end of getting the show together it was going to be called Open Secret, then it was going to be called Bundles, because I was thinking about Bundle theory, how something consists of all the properties it has. Take the redness and shininess here… when you see a red basketball on the floor you bring the idea of roundness, redness, bounciness, and you compress them all, and then this thing appears in front of you. But then it became Dumb Poetry; it’s about being taken by the ways things work together.

PFC_2980 copy

What’s the idea behind the plants?

We bought these at New Covent Garden flower market. Part of me is into the idea of balance and making the space look good, like making the space accessible while it has something else going on in it. There’s something dreamy about the plants, they speak to you. At the right moment, a plant has its own vibe. They do stuff to you. But then there’s the idea of domesticity, and maybe something sinister as well. Sometimes you just have to follow an idea and see what happens.

Going back to that idea of having a system of objects in all of the work, it’s like Lego. I was thinking about how you can constitute Lego to form anything you want — different spaces, different objects, different environments, whatever. I was keen to make my own toolbox and incorporate it amongst the work. So I can make standalone text pieces, or sculptures, or fire extinguishers with paint on them. By compressing these ideas together it creates an abstraction. It’s a way for me to play that out, and pop the contents of the paintings out and into the space. That was one of the main goals of making work like this rather than the work I’d done in the past, was to create a system for myself. To have stuff that slides in and out of different media, so that whatever I do in the future — whether it’s making films or whatever — it’s got its place in that world.

It’s a way of becoming more disciplined and seeing something through. Being more imaginative by being open-ended.

We’ve noticed the Clay Arlington moniker popping up. Is this show Clay or Lucas?

I guess that’s something I want to keep separate. I don’t know how realistic that is. Part of me wants to keep it completely under wraps, but this way of working here in this gallery, this environment, this opportunity to make a living — like it or not — is on a set of tracks. It can only be changed by degrees. Thankfully I’ve been able to steer it in a way that is in line with what I want to achieve, but there are still some ideas that if I threw them in the mix here they’d fall flat on their face, because they’d be completely out of context. That being said, I still want to investigate that stuff that is a lot more loose and experimental. I think one way to deal with that is to have two separate projects, and to deal with things separately. Which means I can deal with this thing in a measured way, while still taking more chances.

It goes back to that thing where if you give someone a blank sheet of paper and set them no limitations, you’re probably not going to end up with very much on it, but if you let them know a certain set of perimeters, then they can work off that.

Completely. It goes back to the idea of setting up a framework. With the other project, more will be revealed. I don’t know how realistic it is to hide it. But this is a Lucas Price show.

Is Warhol an inspiration? You can almost see the flashes from the Bigshot in the paintings…

It’s actually shot on a Canon but it comes out with the same effect. But Warhol is always there, it’s his aura, the legacy of his work, what he’s created…

Who’s your Factory crew then? Who are your peers in the art world?

I’m not sure, to be honest. I’m not really part of a scene. You read about New York and that Downtown scene, but it’s funny because I don’t really feel like I belong to the contemporary art world, I feel like I came from the London street art world, which is where I got my style. But in between I was at the Royal College, I’ve done the institution thing. You look at people like Russell [Maurice] who’s also been involved in graffiti but is doing his own thing which is like fine art, and then I guess, like, Cali [Thornhill DeWitt], who’s definitely coming from his own place, doing exactly what he wants. But then whether or not the door is open is a different thing, because it’s definitely not of the establishment.

It sounds like it’s better not to be categorised.

If you’re just doing you, then it shines through. People who are in that middle ground, take Mischa [Hollenbach] for example, I like that, there’s something very open about it, something less formalised. It’s like a journey rather than a rigid, art school, straight back, militant, text book vibe. The cultural walls have been blurred — we’ve all grown up with the same freeness to investigate and travel.

Dumb Poetry runs through Thursday 10th of September 2015.