The Guide, 2007 – 09
Artificial Breathing Rig, Leaves, Dimensions variable
There are times when the biography of an artist shapes the course of his work with prophetic determination. British-born Clement Price-Thomas is one such artist. The son and grandson of two prominent surgeons, Price Thomas grew up in a kind of mental operating theater, studying anatomy under his father, pouring over surgical instruments designed by his grandfather. In such a world, he understood early on that not only could life turn on a dime, and therein lied its preciousness, but conversely that nature and the human body held »infinite power and invention.« This dual awareness permeated his thinking ever since, defining a quasi-scientific relationship to art in which experimentation, metamorphosis, and cycles of growth and decay become both metaphor and method. Indeed, Price Thomas is something of an alchemist at heart. His sculptures and paintings intentionally alter and activate the inherent properties of organic materials like salt, blood, air, mold, bone and water through the intervention of technology. From the beginning, his earliest works were studies in this interdependence, blurring the line between man-made and natural environments, as when he created artificial coral in the Bahamas (1991). Later works continue to merge the synthetic and biological, exemplified by Heart Studies, 2001–05, a series of anatomically shaped hearts formed by neon tubes that are gradually overgrown by crystalline structures of salt. Of course, Price-Thomas is an artist, not a scientist or a surgeon, and many of his works are phenomenological at root, exploring our perception of consciousness through an intuitive engagement with environment. Serpentine Project, a work-inprogress to be sited on the Serpentine and Long Water Lakes (Hyde Park, London), presents large-scale circles that appear and disappear on the water’s surface, their visibility determined by weather and light as well as the viewer’s position.
Similarly, The Guide, 2008–09, a sculpture whose external form resembles nothing more than a pile of leaves, slowly reveals the unexpected. Rising and falling with the soft, rhythmic pace of a resting breath—an illusion made real through the creation of an artificial breathing rig—it disrupts the viewer’s sense of the ordinary, and like all of Price-Thomas’s work, heightens our awareness of the life force in all of us.
Text: Jane Harris