Luke Ivy Price
December 3rd 2022 - January 15th, 2023
That’s precisely what Luke Ivy Price says he’s been doing in the two years since his last solo show at Ki Smith Gallery: reckoning. It is unusual to hear a young New York City-based artist use that phrase, but it’s a clue as to how unusual this show is. A life-sized bear, deer antlers, and farm tools are just a few artworks that most people wouldn’t expect to see at a gallery in the Lower East Side.
A sculpture in the form of a bush axe makes for an excellent entry point to the show. A bush axe is a large, curved, steel blade attached to a long wooden handle. It is becoming less popular among East Coast American farmers as a means to clear brush, but Price says that using one wasn’t uncommon in his youth. “I Reckon” as a show seems to be made for, and about, everyone who literally, or figuratively, wields a bush axe in their daily struggles.
“Anyone who’s ever swung a bush axe has been doing it out of necessity, not choice. They’re in a struggle against exceptionally difficult obstacles, they could hardly be more closely interacting with nature, and their shirt collar is most certainly blue. They might step on a snake, get cut-up by briars, or fall into a ditch, but they’re willing to see it through.”
Many of the symbols and subjects in the works are from Price’s youth in rural North Carolina, where he says he ran through the swamp catching snakes, chopped firewood, helped cut lumber at his father’s sawmill, and spent virtually all of the rest of his time drawing. This show isn’t a showcase of rural American culture, though; that’s just the accent that it’s delivered in. He’s using symbols like the bush axe to channel the prevailing feelings of working-class people the world over in recent years. It seeming too violent is an obvious critique, but Price sees this work as an alternative to escapism.
“None of the things I’m showing you are entirely true or real. They’re romanticized and abstracted in most ways. I’m doing that in order to make the feelings more real: the feelings of many in the past several years.”
By his reckoning, and mine, there is a conspicuous lack of working-class imagery and narratives in contemporary art. Who better to help rectify this situation than an artist who is (likely) the only one in the City who used to work in a cotton mill? Price sees it as his obligation to represent the blue collar perspective, if only to contribute to the diversity of ideas on display in contemporary art galleries.
The primary subject of these works is conflict and struggle. Every figure, whether human or animal, is actively opposed to another. But it is not just individual struggle that is represented here. Progressive, collectivist politics are also a facet of what Price is “reckoning” with in this show. Each painting and sculpture is a romanticized allegory of our internal and external collective unrest. These are not triumphant scenes of victory like Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People.” Every fight is perpetual, just as many of our struggles are ongoing. Price is simultaneously highlighting the turmoil of our moment in history while encouraging us to fight vigorously. There is potential that the fight, whatever it may be, may not be won, but to struggle is important all the same. This is art that celebrates the valorous and encourages us to nurture our bravery. Nec spe nec metu.