SHERIDAN — Morgan Price’s “Ways of Being,” a collection by the Illinois-based artist featuring offbeat, sometimes bizarre, prints, is wrapping up its run at Sheridan College’s Edward A. Whitney Gallery in the Whitney Center for the Arts.
Price’s pictures highlight what he calls the “nasty little details” of being human — blemishes, wrinkles, weird growths. The result is portraits and abstract pictures that are simultaneously grotesque, funny and sad. Packing all of those contradictory impressions into each image is the point, Price said.
“The mix of seemingly contradictory notions — tenderness and repulsion, humor and seriousness, refinement with sloppiness — reflects the emotional and intellectual ambivalence that inspire me as an artist and a person,” Morgan said in the artist statement accompanying the exhibit.
Offsetting the ugly and exaggerated aspects of the prints is important to Price’s project and stops the portraits from descending into mere caricature.
“Despite the unsavory nature of these subjects, a quality of tenderness and compassion pervades each image,” Price said in his statement.
In other words, the images argue that the gross, deformed people they depict all contain something universally human and demand sympathy and empathy despite their repulsiveness.
They also acknowledge that extending that compassion to these people might be hard. The subjects of the prints don’t look particularly inviting, after all. No one smiles in the prints.
Many of the subjects scowl and their faces are bandaged and bruised, like they’re the kind of people who wouldn’t shy away from a fight.
Price said he isn’t seeking to resolve that tension through his pictures, only to consider it.
“In my art I dwell upon the questions that trouble me, not in search of answers, but to better comprehend the nuanced layers of contemporary existence,” Price wrote.
Brittney Denham, an art faculty member who teaches photography and printmaking at Sheridan College, said Price’s willingness to explore some of those messier concepts was part of the reason she wanted to bring his work to Sheridan.
“It was nice that people could see that artwork doesn’t necessarily have to be just really pretty,” Denham said. “It can be grotesque or lumpy or bumpy or gross and still be appealing.”
From a teaching perspective, Denham said that Price’s work found ways to incorporate different printmaking techniques, which helps students envision how they can use those techniques in their own work.
“One of the reasons why I thought it was important for our students and the larger community to see (Price’s) prints, is that it wasn’t just a show about one medium,” Denham said. “It was really nice to see multiple kinds of printmaking in one series of work…Most of his prints have multiple techniques in each one.”
Sheridan College, which houses renowned artist Theodore Waddell’s print collection, has seen a surge in interest in printmaking in recent years, Denham said, and bringing practitioners like Price to campus help stoke that interest.
Sheridan College’s focus on printmaking will continue after Price’s exhibit wraps up with an exhibit from Brooklyn-based printmaker Deb Chaney scheduled to move into the Whitney Gallery, and later this month the college will host a student printmaking exhibition, during which one student will be awarded the $1,000 Waddell Print Prize.
“It’s kind of the perfect storm of printmaking this month,” Denham said.
The Whitney Gallery will continue to display Price’s work until April 14.