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Price, Melville


oil & mixed media collage on canvas

2000 Gift of Barbara Gillette Price

Melville Price was in the midst of the 1940s and 1950s New York City art world -- a time and place that is a hallmark in the history of American art. Just as he and other first generation Abstract Expressionists such as Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock began to gain public attention, Price left New York to teach at the Philadelphia Museum School. Income from teaching allowed him to continue to paint, but the move away from the vital center of the New York art world had irreversible consequences on his career -- his contributions to Abstract Expressionism were largely unrecognized.

Price painted "Smile" toward the end of his life. It is a powerful painting that possesses his personal style and aesthetic. Essentially abstract, "Smile" incorporates figurative elements, drawn images, and collage with found objects that appeared in Price's work of the 1960s. Like his work of the 1940s, Price continued to organize space within his compositions and juxtapose diverse images. It makes a bold statement that is direct, intense and unswerving. Price's feelings about events occuring in America during the 1960s were expressed in his work. Like other first generation Abstract Expressionists, Price felt that the process of painting was of primary importance in his art, "One should get a sensation from painting just as you get a sensation from smoking a cigarette or drinking whiskey . . . You must tear down mental barriers before you can feel the sensation that comes from an abstract painting." Price exhibited his work regularly in New York and Philadelphia in the 1950s and 1960s. His shift away from a painterly abstract style came from his need to separate his work from that of his peers Franz Kline, Willem deKooning and Jackson Pollock, while asserting his unique form of expression. As a teacher, he encouraged his students to experiment courageously rather than lean on his style or any other artists' style.