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‘As Built’ – New work by Nathaniel Price at Toomey Tourell

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Closing this weekend (so get there fast) is a beautiful show of new works by Nathaniel Price at Toomey Tourell Gallery. The first major body of work to be seen from Price in almost a decade, Price’s focus on the body as his subject has not wavered in that time. Another element that has not changed in that time is Price’s devotion to drawing as his primary method of creation, though he has stretched the boundaries of drawing with a number of the new works.

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The most dramatic of the works on display are four ‘As Built’ drawings of the human form, each measuring 96 x 44 inches. Looking at them in sequence, the form of the figure starts out as solid and then dissolves into a silhouette of the form on the paper. At no point, however, do we lose sight of the figure, but it’s dissipation across the drawings has an ethereal effect on the viewer.

Walking up to the drawings, we can see that they are made up of words meticulously scrawled on the paper by Price. The words he chose, however, are not those of a treatise on the body or some set of poetics on the same. Rather, he chose medical terms that describe both the anatomy of the body and the ailments that affect it, and wrote them over the part of the body they occur in. If the word falls within the form of the body, it describes the anatomical pieces of the body. If it appears outside of the body, the words describe the aliments that affect that part of our anatomy.

The potent mixture of visual beauty and dark subject matter combine in these drawings to stunning effect. We cannot help but reflect on how our bodies are built and wonder which parts will be afflicted with the diseases that Price has listed. From there, it is a short leap to thinking about what the end will be like for us just before our bodies are no longer capable of functioning. These evocative drawings leave the viewer ponding their subtle power long after they have left the gallery.

In expanding the possibilities of drawing while keeping within his subject of the body, Price has incorporated element of performance into his work. For the work ‘Drawn’, (2013) he calculated the volume of his body to be equal to 18.25 inches cubed. Price then poured a cube of plaster to that same volumetric dimension with a rope attached to it, and then drug through the streets of San Francisco for over nine hours, leaving a white line of plaster behind him.

The ephemeral nature of Drawn is incredibly important to the piece’s impact. The line of plaster and the act of dragging the cube are both momentary, as the plaster will wash away with the next rain and the stress of dragging the block ended as soon as Price stopped dragging it. As such, the piece and the act of creating it is a parable of the impermanence of the human mark. Humans continually leave their imprint on the planet as they continue their struggle to survive. When a person finally dies, their struggle is over, yet the marks they have made will eventually disappear with time.

All that remains of ‘Drawn’ is the ground down plaster cube created for the piece, an accompanying video of Price creating the work, and the memory of its creation in the minds of those who witnesses it. While it may look like a just a lump of plaster on the ground, the challenge it symbolically represents is one that each of us faces in our lives.

‘Nathaniel Price – Drawn’ is on view at Toomey Tourell Gallery through Dec. 15, 2013. 49 Geary Street, Fourth Floor, San Francisco, CA 94108; Hours: Tues. – Fri. 11:00 – 5:30, Sat. 11:00 – 5:00. To see more of Nathaniel Price’s work CLICK HERE.

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