Sculptures about statues
We spoke with London-based contemporary artist Thomas J Price about his nine-foot bronze cast sculpture outside the AGO, and his take on the meaning of monuments.
Thomas J Price. Within the Folds (Dialogue I), 2020. Cast silicon bronze, Overall: 274.3 × 68.6 × 68.6 cm. Private Collection. © Thomas J Price. Installation view, Dundas and McCaul. Photo © AGO
Since July, the corner of Dundas and McCaul Streets outside the AGO has been home to Within the Folds (Dialogue 1) – an original nine-foot bronze cast sculpture made by London-based contemporary artist Thomas J Price. The sculpture, part of ArtworxTO: Toronto's Year of Public Art 2021–2022, depicts a Black male subject standing upright in a relaxed position, gazing forward, wearing a casual hooded sweatshirt and pants.
In recent years, Price has become recognized for his large-scale sculptural works situated in public spaces. These massive bronze figures depict fictional Black subjects described by Price as “psychological portraits.” Their identities are derived from several sources, including real-life individuals observed and sketched by the artist and the use of 3-D scanning technology for body and clothing detail. Confronted with the towering presence of each figure, viewers are prompted to critically reflect on how they socially interact with Black bodies.
We recently spoke to Price to find out more about the creation of Within the Folds (Dialogue 1), his philosophy on monuments, and what’s in store for his practice in the coming months.
AGOinsider: You’ve mentioned before that using multiple sources of reference when constructing your large-scale characters “places the focus on their psychological embodiment and underlying humanistic qualities.” Can you elaborate on that statement, sharing why this type of focus is important for those viewing the work?
TJP: I wanted my figurative sculptures to counter the established value system that places individuals, and their constructed narratives, on plinths as markers of who is valuable in society. The use of multiple references was to draw our attention to emotional truths, which we share, instead of reinforcing notions of individual excellence and superiority – the idea that you too can receive acceptance and praise as long as you conform to the existing power structure. I believe that way of thinking only amplifies power and privilege of those who are in positions of authority.
AGOinsider: What can you share with us about the creation process of Within the Folds (Dialogue 1)? Are there any specific references or moments of inspiration that helped you build the character?
TJP: The title references the folds of clothing depicted in classical sculpture as well as the idea of being accepted socially, whilst alluding to the counter-position of being “othered”, which can be a reality depending on what you look like and how you dress. Beyond my low-level personal experiences there have been some very public moments where the clothing being worn, like a hooded jumper, has been used by authorities and individuals as justification for extreme violence against, and murder of, Black men in public spaces. I wanted to render the figure almost like a religious figure in terms of his flowing clothing and have that interplay with the often-negative narratives that are all too frequently propagated in society.
AGOinsider: Many have considered your large-scale public works to be perfect replacements for some of the recently toppled colonial statues across the globe. How do you feel about this assertion? Did you ever think of these works as a type of monument?
TJP: I think of my figurative works as ‘sculptures about statues’. I wanted the work to make people aware of why monuments are built, what narratives are they trying to maintain? Who does that serve? Whilst it’s true that since 2020 the public has become far more conscious of the monuments that stand above them, it’s often been followed by a desire to simply replace individuals from history with different individuals from history. Whilst I do think that awareness of the full spectrum of contributions from within society is a very good thing, I don’t want to end up reinforcing a hierarchical system that is designed from the ground up to maintain the status quo in terms of power and privilege.
AGOinsider: What’s next for you and your practice? Are there any works in progress or upcoming projects you are excited about that you can share with us?
TJP: I’m working on various new bodies of work and have a good number of upcoming projects planned, but the one I’m really getting excited about (and can talk about) is my Windrush commission by Hackney Council in east London, U.K. I’m making two nine-foot amalgam bronze figures based on individuals in the borough who have connections to the Windrush immigration from the Caribbean of 1948. I’m half Jamaican and so it’s a huge honour to be making contemporary works connected to not only my own story, but to the lives of so many people in the U.K. and beyond. The sculptures will be publicly installed in the square outside Hackney town hall, it will be amazing to see them there as part of the fabric of London.
Within the Folds (Dialogue 1) is on view now outside of the AGO on the corner of Dundas and McCaul.
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