A brush with

'Humour runs through my work to cope with everything else': Thomas J Price on opera, bleeding tongues and the politics of public statues

The British artist tells us about his favourite books, music and artists on the A brush with… podcast

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Thomas J Price, Hauser & Wirth Somerset, 2021 © Thomas J Price Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke

Thomas J Price, Hauser & Wirth Somerset, 2021 © Thomas J Price Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke

Thomas J Price on... the first artist who resonated with him

“I’d been making figures out of wire since I was a young child and I would always make them quite elongated because I'm a bit lanky. So when I then saw Giacometti’s sculptures, they looked like the things I was making when I was a kid."

Photographic documentation of Thomas J Price's Licked, (2001). Courtesy of Thomas J Price

… his performance work Licked (2001), in which he licked the walls of a gallery covering it with his saliva and eventually, his own blood

"My tongue started to bleed very early on [in the performance], which I had not thought about. I remember when I first put my tongue to the wall it just stuck and I thought, 'I'm gonna be in trouble'. But I was young, and so I carried on. And when it started bleeding there was almost a moment of relief, because it meant I could leave a mark, so I could actually kind of track where I'd been. It made the work totally change."

Installation view of Sonic Boom at the Hayward Gallery, 2000

… the exhibition that changed his artistic outlook

“I saw Sonic Boom at the Hayward Gallery in 2000 as I was leaving sixth form […], and it blew my mind. It showed me that art can be an experience and sound can exist as a physical thing. [...] It brought the idea of space into play as a material, resonance into play as a material. [...] This show about sound made me think about touch and think about space, and ultimately about how we connect."

Thomas J Price's Numen (Shifting Votive One) (2016) Aluminium. Photo: Ken Adlard

… the music he listens to in his studio

"A tutor of mine once said my animations were operatic. I'm not sure if that was supposed to be an insult, but I loved it because I love opera. I remember the first time I listened to opera was because I found a CD at a car boot sale. It was The Force of Destiny [La forza del destino by Giuseppe Verdi]—I had no idea what they were saying as it was in Italian, but the emotion carried me away—the journey and the narrative structure of the sounds, the composition, how balance can be achieved by a span of time really blew my mind as a kid and opened me up to this world of experience. From a small little council house in Brixton I was listening to these operas about the Italian countryside and that let my mind journey."

• For the full interview with the artist, listen to our podcast A brush with... Thomas J Price, which is available on the usual podcast platforms. This episode is sponsored by Bloomberg Connects.

 Thomas J Price: Thoughts Unseen, Hauser & Wirth, Somerset, UK, until 3 January 2022. Witness, for the Studio Museum in Harlem’s inHarlem series, Marcus Garvey Park, New York, until 1 October 2022. Reaching Out has just been permanently installed at the Donum Estate, Sonoma, California. Price’s work for the Hackney Windrush Art Commission will be unveiled in June 2022.