Then and Now: Two Artists in Perspective

Elephants view blue, Walter Price 2016-2018

Courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali, New York
 
Lois Dodd and Walter Price are very different artists with ostensibly little in common. But upon further examination, they have more similarities than you might think.

Lois Dodd and Walter Price are very different artists with ostensibly little in common. But upon further examination, they have more similarities than you might think.

Courtesy the artist and Alexandre Gallery, New York

Lois Dodd, Back of Men's Hotel (from My Window), 2016.

Both artists convey atmospheric effects, which lend emotional resonance.

 

The mysteries inherent in finding synchronicity among artists of different generations, from various geographical, religious, political, social, or ethnic backgrounds, are intriguing. They may lie mostly in the eye of the beholder, unbeknownst to the artists involved. Take, for instance, two artists with ostensibly little in common: Walter Price a 34-year-old Black man, born in Macon, Georgia, who served in the US Navy and attended the Art Institute of Washington under the GI Bill; and Lois Dodd, a 95-year-old, white American woman, born in New Jersey, and raised in New York and New England, who studied at Cooper Union back when the students were mostly female. Both are consummate draftspeople who render freehand everyday objects and structures, and sometimes the actions of nature.

And, both seem to hover between abstraction and representation, although Dodd insists she is in no way abstract, claiming she only paints what she sees. Price, for his part, straddles whatever boundaries he can. “For me, it wavers,” he says, “I happily engage the abstract. Sometimes, the ideas do leap from my imagination like leaping fish going upstream; but I’m no fisherman so I rarely catch them.”

Courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Walter Price, Raining cats and dogs, 2018.

By contrast, Dodd might portray the architecture of laundry hanging on a clothesline in a breeze or take her car out for a spin on a dark Maine night, tantalizing us with lights in windows and geometric shadows. “I’m wedded to what I look at,” she says.

Price says of Dodd’s work, “Her approach is cool,” but he emphasizes, “We all are so different. I’m happy to have a kinship with such a proficient and prolific artist.”

Both are notable for their poetic paintings, whereby objects assume a personality. We might see the artists as domesticating the landscape and/or, on occasion, landscaping the interior. Price’s landscapes can be threatening but ambiguously so, while Dodd’s are more composed.

Where her compositions are forthright and uncontrived, they can also be tricky, harboring subtle perspectival variations via diagonal lines of tree-limb shadows or set out as angled streaks dashed off in front of houses drawing viewers in and away from the subject.

Most of all, Dodd holds us in place with her painted readymades—with the windows and door frames for which she is so well known. Of their function, she says: "It's a frame—a perfect composition. It reproduces what I think I see there.” She explains, “I found I liked to stare at the widows from outside.” Dodd goes on, “It was basically the reflection. It was like trompe l'oeil. I would see the wonderful reflection in a neighbor's window—seeing the river and the field. Just trying to see it as it is. It had to be when no one was inside.”

Lois Dodd, Two Red Drapes and Part of a White Sheet, 1981
Courtesy the artist and Alexandre Gallery, New York

Lois Dodd, Two Red Drapes and Part of a White Sheet, 1981

Walter Price, sugarloaf mountain, 2017
Courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Walter Price, sugarloaf mountain, 2017.

Walter Price, Elephants view blue, 2016-2018.
Courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Walter Price, Elephants view blue, 2016-2018.

Walter Price, To withstand buffering winds from all sides, 2021.
Courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Walter Price, To withstand buffering winds from all sides, 2021.

Walter Price, Hold the umbrella tight while viewing my rain, 2020.
Courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Walter Price, Hold the umbrella tight while viewing my rain, 2020.

Courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

 Walter Price, We shall greet the moon again, 2019 (detail)

What Price portrays comes from his head—more like an interpretation of what he sees and dreams.

 

So it was like a portrait of a window.

As for interiors, she has created composites, as in a work titled simply The Painted Room (1982). "In Maine,” she says, “I decided to paint this room. The room is painted like the woods. It has trees in it. It was like a trompe l’oeil.”

Faye Hirsch, wrote in artnet how she sees Dodd’s work as “neither landscape, nor interior, nor abstraction, but a ‘curious combination’ of the three.”

What Price portrays comes from his head—more like an interpretation of what he sees and dreams. For him, it’s a sea of free-floating symbols and fragments placed or suspended in space to be connected and reconnected. We see in many of his works, as in Dodd’s, the comforts of home in the details. Memories linger in the weight of the paint. Both artists convey atmospheric effects, which lend emotional resonance. We accompany them through chilly nights and bright summer days. We feel with them.

Courtesy the artist and Alexandre Gallery, New York

Lois Dodd, Staircase, NJ, 1988.

Price and Dodd work in a variety of media, from prints, to drawings, to paintings. Price straddles whatever boundaries he can, explaining, “Overall, I try and embrace the flow of the day. The prevalence of Instagram, digital art, etc., are all windows toward new adventures. It’s all pleasurable.”

Dodd, for her part, says “I don’t have to deal with technology; I don’t feel like I’m lacking anything.”

Beyond formal concerns, Price is preoccupied with identity politics. “It definitely affects my thinking because politics are tricky and unsteady. It’s like tic-tac-toe, the desire is for balance towards the finish, but each hop is risky. So navigating this takes severe consideration.”

While together Dodd and Price may not demonstrate elective affinities, they do draw from the same toolbox of life, reveling in the warm and emotional details of the home, landscape, and the mind, although they differ in lifestyle.

“Nowadays,” Price says, “I'll ruminate on an idea and how sly I can be in approach while sitting Indian style and slightly hovering a few inches off the ground; sometimes, I even make humming sounds.”

Price manages to domesticate nature and at the same time let the symbol or facts of domestic life internalize the landscape. A cozy blue traditional-style sofa is the pervasive so-to-speak elephant in the room, or the narrative, or the landscape. It’s a free-ranging symbol. His titles render the analogy with elephants literal. For instance, his painting Elephants View Blue (2006–2018), features three heads, presumably belonging to elephants, looking up a hill with stairs. Elephants aren’t only representative of the Republican party, of course; they stand for memory, wisdom, and power as well.

About the Author

Barbara A. MacAdam

Barbara A. MacAdam is a New York-based freelance editor and writer, who worked at ARTnews for many years as well as for Art and Auction, New York Magazine, Review Magazine, and Latin American Literature and Arts. She currently reviews regularly for The Brooklyn Rail.

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