GRACE exhibition explores the intersection of art and motherhood

A very thoughtful article about my exhibition written by Janet Rems for the Fairfax Times

Screen Shot 2018-11-21 at 9.20.34 AM.png

For photographer Caitlin Teal Price, 2010 initiated a profoundly transformative time, both personally and artistically. Returning to Washington, D.C., after years living and working in New York City and then earning her MFA at the Yale School of Art, she fell in love, married and became the mother of two sons, now six and four.

Her newest works, on view at the Greater Reston Arts Center through Nov. 24, are a visual “memoir” of her journey as a mother at the same time she was recapturing her productivity as an artist, living and working in a new environment with a whole new set of quotidian demands.

Known for her photographic collections of people and places, these new works focus instead on objects (twisted spoons, bits of metal, porcelain and plastic)—randomly collected by her sons on regular walks together. Although much different subject matter than her earlier people-oriented works, there are connections. Akin to still lifes, they likewise are carefully constructed portraits. Similarly, they also employ a distinctive use of crisp, intensely present light and shade.

“Photography is writing with light, and you’ve always used it well. … You almost forget it’s a photograph,” said Lily Siegel, GRACE executive director and curator.

Price—a rising artist whose work has been exhibited locally at the National Portrait Gallery, American University’s Katzen Arts Center and the Corcoran Gallery of Art—sat down with Siegel, at the gallery on Nov. 10 for a “Conversation” about her work’s new directions. Ruminating on the role of her sons, Price agreed that these new works function as a visual journal of their lives during this period. “It’s honoring them, their youth and their curiosity. It’s a nice representation of them, and, also as an artist, it’s taking a part of my life back.”

Something she keenly thought about as she was working, Price, though she doesn’t want to “pigeon-hole” herself as a “mom,” recalled that as her sons “treasure hunted,” a “light bulb suddenly went off.” She became attracted to these disparate bits and pieces as “objects of desire,” the idea developed of “making something ordinary precious.”

Price also owes the title of the exhibition, “Green Is the Secret Color to Make Gold,” to her sons. It was a notion that her then-five-year-old son repeated to his younger brother to convince him that green should be his favorite color. Noting its inadvertent “alchemical allusion,” it reinforced for Price “the possibility of the ordinary becoming extraordinary.”

Reiterating that the labors of both artists and parents is an “omnipresent concern” of the photographs in the exhibition,” Siegel further linked Price’s images to the 1920s Russian art movement, “Constructivism,” which conflated art and life and “celebrated technology and constructed art.”

Although these works “expose [Price’s] life to the viewer,” Siegel confessed that she had to resist reading specific narratives into them. Instead, she urged that they also be viewed as pure images “without symbolism.”

Now working with a digital camera, Price, looking to the future, suggested that she might return to the darkroom. “I found speed, but I lost process … the idea of labor,” she said.

The exhibition also includes three of Price’s first abstract works—two large-scale minimalist drawings, created with pigment and X-Acto blade, and a striking wall sculpture, “Circadian Drive,” constructed of 35 small, interconnected tiles (small enough for her to put in a bag and work on wherever her daily life took her), also created with pigment and X-Acto blade.

Compared by Siegel in concept to David Hockney’s 1980 “Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio,” in which Hockney painted his daily drive from memory, Price, in “Circadian Drive,” drew the repeated drive to her sons’ daycare with her eyes closed. While Hockney’s colors are “jubilant,” Price’s are a more subdued grey, black and white, extracted from a photograph of a rosemary bush along the route.

This was Price’s second formal conversation with Siegel about her art work. On Oct. 7, Price and Siegel talked about her new work and the GRACE exhibition with photographer and video artist, John Pilson, at the National Gallery of Art. Pilson also is senior critic and acting director of graduate studies for fall 2018 at the Yale University School of Art. 

Green is the Secret color to make gold

From A to B

Illuminating the obscured background of our lives is of primary interest to Caitlin Teal Price. Her recent drawing Circadian Drive (A to B in 35 squares)(2018) is a depiction of the route she drove every weekday for three years. She drew with her eyes closed. “Green is the secret color to make gold,” the title of this exhibition, is a phrase repeatedly recited by the artist’s 5-year old son to his younger brother to convince him that green should be his favorite color. Note the alchemical allusion to the possibility of the ordinary becoming extraordinary. The spoons and metal, plastic, and porcelain elegantly posed in her photographs were found on routine walks taken as a young family, thrust into pockets without thought of purpose or value.

Price has primarily been recognized as a photographer of portraits and of places. She has turned her attention and camera on the way others present themselves while managing to slyly amplify that which they are trying to keep hidden. She has put herself in uncomfortable positions to put her subjects at ease. The most recent body of work offers a new perspective on her oeuvre to date. Routine, from the French word for road, has always been a part of her practice. For her series Motel (2002), she documented the interior of roadside motels, sometimes occupied by women selected by the artist, sometimes reflecting occupants just out of view; Northern Territory (2006) depicts lives full of expectation of what may be just around the corner, a liminal state empty of optimism; Annabelle, Annabelle (2009–2012) takes the road as its subject and as its object—women are posed alongside freeways, parking garages, overpasses, and street-side facades.

In the newest work, a different path emerges. Price’s most recent series, Collection (2017–2018), and the accompanying drawings in this exhibition serve as a memoir of this moment in the artist’s life. After making Stranger Lives (2008–2015) and publishing her first book, of the series, Price found herself away from New York, settling into life in Washington, DC, and with a studio for the first time ever. Admittedly, it took her three years to figure out how to be productive in this new setting. She simultaneously had less time to herself, as she was a new mother, and more time to spend alone in a space dedicated to her art making. Time became something new to explore as she settled into the routine necessary to balance the life of an Artist Mother. She returned to photographing Birds (2008 and 2015) in the archive of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. She started making drawings. The first drawings were simple schematics, pencil on paper, that later became etchings. Though Price made prints, the metal etching plates are what she considers the final work. She found a tactile interest in material and the manual labor of creating things with her hands beyond the use of a camera, the manipulation of light. She began to reflect on her life and routine.

Circadian Driveis reminiscent of David Hockney’s Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio(1980). As Hockney painted his daily drive to the studio from memory, Price drew hers, the drive to her sons’ daycare, with her eyes closed—the title a lovely nod to the daily and the circadian rhythm controlling one’s levels of alertness throughout the day. Both works express a level of comfort and freneticism in the potential of the day. In each, the route becomes an unreliable horizon and the marks of the respective artist’s hand becomes the subject. Color and rhythm express the psychic energies of the drives. Hockney’s colors are jubilant, his marks animated, the joyful anticipation of reaching the studio apparent. Price’s colors are literal, extracted from a photograph of a rosemary bush along the route; her lines are expressions of hard work that add up to an ecstatic composition of satisfied labor.

Work and the labor of artists and parents, especially mothers, is an omnipresent concern in the drawings and the photographs in this exhibition. The images of Collection are directly influenced by Constructivism, the Russian art movement of the 1920s that espoused the conflation of art and life and celebrated technology and “constructed” art. Price found herself rich with discarded objects of technology gathered by her sons and a workspace ready to be utilized. It is easy to read the selection of objects as allegorical—twisted spoons as frustrated attempts at caregiving, the humble stake wreathed in gilded wire and elevated to trophy, the ambulatory wasp astride the coin of no value, porcelain and plastic, the high and low of domesticity. Instead, the story is written by the objects without symbolism. It is a tale of the quotidian. Price has bravely and generously exposed her life to the viewer with a gentle invitation to be self-reflexive and notice the things that define an existence.

- Lily Siegel, Curator and Executive Director @ The Greater Reston Art Center

National Gallery of Art

So honored to be invited to be conversation with John Pilson and Lily Siegel at the National Gallery of Art. We discuss photography and my solo exhibition Green is the Secret Color to Make Gold. on view September 29 - November 24th, 2018 at GRACE

The Audio Recording is now archived on the National Gallery’s website


An interview I did with Jon Feintein of Humble arts Foundation about Stranger Lives

New Photobook Captures New York City Sunbathers as Curious Specimens

From 2008 to 2015, Caitlin Teal Price photographed strangers sunbathing on New York City beaches under stark, immaculate rays. Shot from above with her medium format camera, her subjects lay back with eyes closed, presumably unaware of the photographer's presence. They exist for viewers to ogle and observe, to draw our own conclusions about their personal stories, to look without permission. Price recently published a monograph of the series, Stranger Lives with Capricious Books, which piqued our interest to learn more about her process and metaphors at work. 

Jon Feinstein: How did this project start?

Caitlin Teal Price: I started the series in the summer of 2008, in between my first and second years of grad school at the Yale School of Art. The semester before I had become really interested in the idea of the stranger, specifically the presentation of a stranger and how an apposing stranger (me) reads into what she sees. I was fascinated by what I could I tell about someone simply by the way they looked, what they carried with them and how they presented themselves to the world. I suppose the surface of something and the way it appears is the essence of photography – so perhaps subconsciously I was attempting to get back to the roots of a photograph. Previously, the way I had been finding my strangers was by going from house to house knocking on doors. I would knock on a door and I ask if I could come in to photograph them. The knocking project was more exciting to me than the pictures were good, so I scraped the approach. When I found myself on the beach the following summer, I knew I had the perfect strangers to photograph.

JF: Why NYC beaches specifically? 

CTP: I tried to photograph on other beaches around the country, California, Florida, Delaware, even other beaches in New York, but there is something undoubtedly special about Coney Island and Brighton beach. There is a wonderful rawness of people in New York City. On the other beaches I visited people were almost too put-together, it’s as if they were expecting to be photographed. The people on Coney and Brighton lay out as if nobody is looking. Some people just roll out of the Subway and on to the beach with what they happen to be carrying, sometimes without a bathing suit or towel. In addition, Coney and Brighton are packed full of people, and the people are incredibly diverse. This is something I paid attention to when choosing my subjects, I wasn’t interested in photographing the same type of person over and over

JF: What's behind the title "Stranger Lives"? 

CTP: The series is about the lives of strangers, so it seemed fitting. But, some viewers may read the word “stranger” as weirder. Which is fine too.

JF: How close are you getting to your subjects? Has anyone "caught" you photographing them? If so, what's the response been?

CTP: I ask every single person I photograph. And about 50% of the people I ask say ”Yes.” It would be WAY to scary not to ask. I don’t photograph the people who say “No.” I don’t like the idea of sneaking a picture – especially in this scenario. In fact, I want to been seen. I specifically wear a red dress so that people can see me walking toward and away from them. I find that wearing the red dress is less threatening than my usual black. I am extremely close when I take the photograph, directly over them, in fact. I hover on my tippy toes while hand holding my Mamiya RZ 6x7 camera. I still use

JF: The light has a crazy, revealing quality to it. Are you using flash or are these lit by the sun?

CTP: They are lit by the sun. I photograph from about 12-2pm so that the sun is high and bright in the sky. Because I hand hold the camera I have to shoot at a 1/1000 of a second to avoid camera shake (due to the heavy camera + tippy toe hover). In order to get the sharp focus and depth of field I shoot with an aperture of F22. It’s all very calculated. The fine details are really important to the images, so I make sure the lighting elevates

JF: What draws you to look at+ photograph strangers in this specimen-like way?

CTP: Like I mentioned, I am really interested in the presentation of a person and what her body may reveal about her life. What stories do the scars, wrinkles and markings on the skin reveal? How does what she surround herself with add to the
narrative? The specimen like aspect offers us opportunity and gives us permission to stare and to wonder about the lives of these strangers.

JF: Are these purely voyeuristic, or is something else at play? 

CTP: They are pretty voyeuristic, and I have to admit that what drew me to these people in first place was the desire to stare, but as the series has grown I believe that there is more at play. I really appreciate the leveling affect that the beach has, and that these images have. Even though there is a wide range of age, race and class in these photographs all of the people are viewed in the same way. Lying on their backs, eyes closed and from above. They become one, the work speaks to humanity as a whole and how despite all of our differences we are all very much the same.

JF: This might be an obvious question, but do you see any dialogue b/t this work and Martin Parr's Life's a Beach?

CTP: While both bodies of work were made at the beach, I see the approach and mission as different. And this is probably over simplifying, but to me Parr is specifically exploring the beach as a culture, while for me the beach is a place to explore people in a more general sense. I am not attached to the beach as a location where as I think for Parr it is central. I was (still am) more interested in the line between confidence and vulnerability. How our possessions and our personal presentation often give us confidence, but as humans we are inherently vulnerable. I am interested in the tension between confidence and vulnerability seen through the lives of strangers. When I think about it, I feel like this work may have more in common with Parr’s Common Senseseries.

JF: On the surface, this work seems very different from your other series. How do you see Stranger Lives fitting into your larger practice?

CTP: Visually yes, Stranger Lives is very different from my other portrait work. But, the core ideas remain the same. I enjoy making visually different kinds of work, it keeps my practice fresh and I don’t get bored.