Cover Artist: William Henry Price
Story by Paul M. Howey
Always drawn to the outdoors, William Henry Price grew up exploring the creeks and fields surrounding his home in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “I think my whole childhood was spent secretly planning to run away and live in the wilderness,” he says.
And when he wasn’t out on an adventure, he could usually be found drawing pictures. “I thought this was the main thing in life, but I discovered that other kids didn’t draw all the time. This was a disappointment.”
Although his father wasn’t an artist (rather, he was an optician and enjoyed playing the flute), he obviously saw something special in his son’s artwork. When William was just seven years old, his father put together a big stack of his drawings and showed them to Will Behler, an artist in Bethlehem, who agreed to take the child on as a student. “I was this skinny kid in an adult evening painting class, painting in oils!” exclaims William. “I learned so much from him just through osmosis. I studied with him for eight years.”
He cites another important mentor in his life—composer Nevett Bartow, with whom he studied music while in boarding school. “He was lively and cultured,” says William. “With Nevett, I had a glimpse of an artist’s life—you know, composing at the grand piano in a country house, good wine, good books, cigarettes, parties… I was painting and playing guitar and piano, and trying to compose a sonata. It might as well have been 19th century France.”
William earned his bachelors degree in painting from Boston University and his masters from Rutgers University. He describes his collegiate career as “wall-to-wall drawing, painting, art history, and aesthetics.”
Two widely respected artists made an impact on William: Philip Guston at BU and Leon Golub at Rutgers. “Not unlike Guston, Leon questioned the possibility of ‘beauty’ in a world full of atrocities, oppression, and loss of meaning. (Leon) and I conducted a respectful argument for two years, and I learned a lot about critical discourse.”
Art and music education, both as a lifelong student and as a teacher, have been central to his life, and the things he’s studied would make for some fascinating scenes in his biographical movie.
He studied sacred geometry, the Lindisfarne Gospels, and related medieval manuscripts. He’s studied and performed frame drums with Glen Velez, is a graduate of Don Campbell’s Therapeutic Sound School, and became a certified Music for People teacher after a four-year training program. And he’s been a violist with the Brevard Philharmonic, Blue Ridge Orchestra, and various other orchestras and ensembles.
He began teaching art right out of college, and putting on music-making workshops. “There were periods … when I did very little painting. But you’re always in the work even when you can’t get near it. You learn so much from interacting with students, too.” He continues to give occasional lectures, and does a lot of writing about how art functions in indigenous and ancient cultures.
“Teaching needs to be structured and, at the same time, directed to the innate qualities of the students,” he explains. “Above all, we have got to relearn that art is essential to life, as vital and critical as writing, math, and science.”
William says for him the creative process most often begins “with an impulse to paint some aspect of wildness… It might come from the sound of the brook, or the late sunlight catching a thousand branches.”
Next, he’ll start making what he describes as “patterns, smudges, and traceries,” letting the subject matter speak to him throughout the painting process. Occasionally, he says, images will suggest themselves, and he thinks, “Oh, I can’t put that in.” But he acquiesces and “they all somehow emerge without my conscious intent, yet I find they have real symbolic significance.”
He adds, “I just want to paint the aliveness of things. I think everything we see in this world around us is awake, a kind of speaking presence of itself.” William remembers being outside with his mother when he was about four years old.
She directed his attention to a crocus poking through the dark soil, and he was fascinated. “The whole world focused on those thin, livid shoots,” he says.
His paintings continue to embody that delightful, unabashed childhood sense of wonder and awe.
To see more of his work, visit williamhenryprice.com. His studio is located in Pink Dog Creative, 342 Depot Street in Asheville’s River Arts District. (Photo of artist by Paul M. Howey; all others courtesy of the artist.)
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