By Jacqueline Hlavenka
Making art and creating change with one of America’s favorite vegetables
Adjunct art professor Jeffrey Allen Price uses potatoes as a way to get people together. He doesn’t cook them; he sculpts them.
Price who calls himself a potato guru sits outside the C.V. Starr cafe a with an eight-month-old potato that has shriveled up to a size no bigger than a fist.
This might seem like trash to most, Price considers it a work of art. “I don’t have to do very much to this at all,” Price says. “See? The potato is sculpture on its own,” he says.
A self-proclaimed potato artist, Price says the potato is a humble, accessible symbol that is abundant and unpretentious. “Everyone has some type of connection to it. I use the potato as a
lens to examine everything,” Price says.
Though Price defines himself as “unclassifiable,” he is a conceptual artist because all his projects have a specific meaning behind it. For Price, “thinking potato” is a humorous symbol for living a healthy, sustainable lifestyle that is constantly changing – just like the potato itself.
“I’ve used [it in] paintings and those are going to last but when I carve the potato, it is always transforming. I’m always learning from this process of transformation,” Price says.
Born in Arizona and raised in Missouri, Price started working with potatoes in 1996 as an undergraduate student at Missouri State University. Since then, he’s organized numerous potato-based festivals, including 2003’s Think Potato festival in St. James that focused on art, environmentalism, sustainable living and community involvement.
For Price, creating potato art is not just personal. It can bring people together.“I think this [potato] is political as well because I use it as a social vehicle,” Price says. “In 1996, I started organizing potato festivals as social events. If I am organizing a social event and say ‘let’s be a community,’ that’s political.”
“There’s an ephemeral quality of the potato,” he says. “ I once carved a self-portrait of me out of a potato and it was hilarious. I left on the skin for my hair and my beard and then it kind of shriveled away. This [the potato] is very fertile and vibrant right now but in a couple months it is going to dry out and it’s going to die.”
For the full story, check out the Spring issue of Pulse, available now.