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Transformative artist Ken Price dies at 77

TAOS, New Mexico (AP) ― Ken Price, an internationally known artist whose glazed and painted clay blurred the lines between ceramics and sculpture, is being remembered for his humor, his love of natural shapes and for the long hours he spent in the studio perfecting what became a style all his own.

Family and friends gathered at his studio in Taos to share their stories Sunday following his death Friday morning at his home in Taos. By Monday, the makeshift memorial of flowers and notes at The Harwood Museum of Art, where one of his installations is on exhibit, continued to grow.

A hand-written note tucked under one of the bouquets summed it up: “A life well lived ...’’

Price’s death at age 77 was first reported by The Los Angeles Times. Friend and fellow artist Larry Bell confirmed Price’s death with the Associated Press on Monday.

Price had struggled with tongue and throat cancer for several years, but friends said he continued working despite being ill.

Inside his studio, there were works in progress and current notes and drawings lying on his desk. His son Jackson said work still continues on fabricating some of the colors and forms proofed by Price over the last five years into large-scale outdoor sculptures.

“He was just one of those artists who just worked. That’s what he did, that’s what he lived and breathed,’’ said Jina Brenneman, a ceramist herself and the curator at The Harwood. It was Price who inspired her to come to Taos.

The debate among art critics and historians about whether Price’s colorful, organic pieces were more sculpture than ceramic art was not something that concerned him as he worked in his studios in Taos and Venice, California.

One of the reasons he was able to elevate ceramics to such a high level is because the medium eventually became an irrelevant part of his creative process, Brenneman said.

Bits of his personality, particularly his humor, also carried through to his work, said friend and fellow artist Larry Bell.

“The thing that was amazing about Kenny is how inventive he was with form and surface and color. He just invented these totally goofy shapes and then caressed them until they became just magnificent little objects,’’ Bell told the Associated Press in a phone interview.

“He just kept working on extending that kind of direction ― that very personal, intimate relationship with his material ― until it took on an incredible life of its own,’’ Bell said.

Price didn’t see himself as a ceramist, but rather a sculptor, Bell said.