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 Melville Price  (1920 - 1970)

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Lived/Active: Alabama/Pennsylvania      Known for: abstract expressionist painting

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Ad Code: 3
Melville Price
from Auction House Records.
Untitled, 1954
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A painter in abstract styles and art educator, Melville Price was born in Kingston, New York and was in New York City at the time when Abstract Expressionist painting was dominant. He studied at the Art Students League, the National Academy of Design and the New School for Social Research. From 1950 to 1952, he taught at the Philadelphia Museum School and from from 1958 to 1970 at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

In the early 1940s, Melville Price worked in his Brooklyn studio and befriended modernist paintings Franz Kline, Joseph Stella, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. By 1949 his style had "evolved from a surrealist based biomorphism to a signature style of gestural abstraction."

Price abandoned New York City to try to improve his financial situation, just at the time he was starting to have real success, "being seen and spoken about . . . ." Later he reflected upon this move as a mistake, having left, "a reputation. . . as a painter."


Source:
Thomas McCormick Gallery, 1996
Marika Herskovic, Editor, "American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s"

Biography from McCormick Gallery:
Melville Price was born in Kingston, NY in 1920 and died in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1970. Working in New York City in the 1940s he became one of the youngest members of the Abstract Expressionist movement. His earliest influences were Joseph Stella who became a mentor in 1939 and Franz Kline with home he shared a close, lifelong friendship. After experimentation with Cubist and Surrealist based imagery Price made his breakthrough about 1948 with the "Maze Series," a body of completely original, complex and organically twisting abstractions. With the "Maze" paintings Price began to gain critical notice with exhibitions at Peridot, Egan, Hugo, Bodley and Iolas Galleries. In 1951 he was included in the seminal 9th St. Show and was invited to join the "Club".

In spite of his growing success he, like most of his colleagues, suffered from chronic poverty. Beginning in 1951 Price began commuting to Philadelphia where the painter Leonard Nelson had helped him secure a teaching job at the Museum School. He eventually moved there becoming a full-time faculty member. In Philadelphia he exhibited at Dubin and Hendler Galleries and, in 1955, married one of his students, Barbara Gillette. The couple soon moved to New Hope, a small village on the Delaware River where he began his next major cycle of paintings — "The New Hope Series." Reflecting the artist's new-found happiness, these colorful, large canvases were a complete departure from the "Maze" works but also unlike anything anyone else was doing.

In 1958 Price accepted an excellent job opportunity at the University of Alabama where he remained until his untimely death in 1970 at the age of 50. Over those twelve years he created some of his most compelling work. In 1960 he began a series of small oils that became the basis for "Black Warrior," a 10 x 16 foot work completed in a rented studio in Brigantine, NJ, where he worked while on sabbatical from the University. He followed the success of the "Black Warrior" series with a group of massive collage based canvases. He began incorporating words, numbers and fragmented elements of advertising onto the surfaces along with paint and collage. These works were clearly in response to new influences of artists like Robert Rauschenberg.

In 1962 Price began showing again in New York at Gallery Mayer. At the time of his death from a massive heart attack he had begun a new series of works and was actively pursuing new representation in New York. After his death Price was honored with retrospective exhibitions at the Speed Museum in Louisville, KY and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC. He is represented in numerous private and public collections including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Corcoran Museum of Art, the Greenville County Museum of Art, the Los Angeles Museum County Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the National Museum of American Art, the Smart Museum at the University of Chicago and the Speed Museum.

An estate catalog with an essay by Barbara Gillette Price was produced published in 2002 by the McCormick Gallery in Chicago.


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