"Pink and Gold" By Caitlin Teal Price (2018)
"Pink and Gold" By Caitlin Teal Price (2018)

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From the sing-song title of her show to the objects in her images, Caitlin Teal Price is letting her children take the wheel. Green Is the Secret Color To Make Gold, the photographer’s exhibit on view at the Greater Reston Arts Center, is a bittersweet essay about motherhood. It’s a show about her sons, with work inspired and even guided by them, but it’s more searching than sweet.

Green Is the Secret Color To Make Gold is a phrase that Price borrowed from her 5-year-old son. (It’s his campaign to convince his little brother to pick green as his favorite color, which makes perfect sense to those of us with brothers.) Parents collect this kind of marginalia over the course of their children’s lives, but here, Price has taken it as a mantra. Price photographs little bits and things that her children squirrel into her home; for the edit of her sons’ curio collection on view, she focuses on fragments of glass, metal, and minerals—suggesting an alchemical tilt.

For works such as “Gem” and “Porcelain and Plastic” (2018), the artist photographs the object against a neutral backdrop in her studio. “Copper” (2018) is what the title suggests: a piece of scratched metal, a little reminiscent of the shape of the District. Price captures this and other found objects under daylight, and they cast dramatic shadows. She doesn’t depict “Sharp Metal Red Plastic” (2018) or “Spoon and Twisted Metal” (2017) as precious treasures. Her affect is neutral, or maybe forensic. This isn’t a tender scrapbooking project.

Other works on view give weight to the vague sense of dissent that her photos suggest. “Circadian Drive (A to B in 35 Squares)” (2018) is a series of square etchings that trace the path from her home in Glover Park to her daycare in Petworth. As curator Lily Siegel notes, it’s a play on David Hockney’s “Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio” (1980), a painting he made from memory of his daily routine. Price etched hers with her eyes closed. It’s a cri de cœur about her daily grind, an objection to the unobjectionable ordinariness of life. Even the medium screams monotony: Scratching pigmented photo paper is a frustrated way of making a photograph.

Other paths not taken haunt Green Is the Secret Color. The show registers the disappointment that parents, and especially mothers, may feel in their creative lives when family interferes. Driving kids to daycare is not fun, and worse, it’s lost time. This is not to say that Price is disappointed: Two larger etchings on view, “Thing 1 (Flesh)” and “Thing 2 (Blood),” both from 2018, must point to her sons. They are painstaking drawings of a sail shape, complimentary mirror images in different colors. They might be her icons.

It’s rare to see work that tackles its own production this way. Green Is the Secret Color captures the inspiration that children bring and the toll that they take. “Wasp on Metal” (2017), a photo of a dead insect curled over a coin-shaped plug of metal, is as cold as the other photos on view. It’s Price’s memento mori, a meditation on youth and adulthood, the ambitions we pursue, the balance we seek, the choices we make.

At the Greater Reston Arts Center to Nov. 24. 12001 Market Street, Suite #103, Reston, Va. Free. (703) 471-9242. restonarts.org.