Thursday, September 11, 2008

Essay: Edward Rice

by Wim Roefs

Ed Rice has been painting part of a barn lately, many times, seen from the front, in the same flat, symmetrical composition. The roofline and pitch are the same, the structure’s extremes are cut off left and right by the edge of the canvas, and its one gaping yawn of an opening sits in the same spot, dead center, dark but never black. The band of flat, vertical space in front – or, rather, beneath – the barn has the same width in each version. The air space penetrated by the roof keeps the same shape and size. 

But the colors and tone differ in each painting. The barn itself goes from the softest pure red Rice could muster without getting orange to various kinds of dirty reds, pink and purples that at times suggest though never provide brown. The lower band has many variations of green and yellow mixtures, sometimes with reds thrown in. The sky goes from a robust deep blue to a rich, softer, even pale one and to hints of gray. 

“The paintings are just about color,” Rice says. “Establishing a basic motif allowed me to focus on color and tone and on creating a composition with only the essential elements. I wanted to experiment with the basic shape of the building, simplifying it to its basic form.” 

The barns, painted much looser than most of Rice’s work, lack details such as bricks and planks that are typical of his architectural paintings. As a result, these are not paintings of a particular building in a particular place in a particular light, as Rice’s previous structures have been. 

As a result also, the scale of the repeated scene is ambiguous, giving the viewer little sense of the barns’ sizes. The paintings show about 80 percent of the imaginary barn but read as a detail, like the at times life-size, meticulously rendered architectural details Rice is known for.
The new work takes Rice further from painting traditional Southern buildings rather traditionally to a modern, even contemporary approach. It’s not just the repetition. The barn images top the minimalism of his architectural-detail paintings. The paint application is juicy. He looks more at contemporary art these days, Rice says, mentioning exhibitions by Luc Tuymans, Peter Doig, Howard Hodgkin and Lucian Freud.

“Sometimes my work looks so old-fashioned to me that I feel out of step or something,” Rice says. “I also try to be less illustrative. These paintings are more about memory than a specific thing. Memory of a sky that was bright, of a vague shape that was dark, of a color that seemed orange. I have all these visual files in my mind and try to realize them on the canvas.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Essay: Edward Rice

By Wim Roefs

“Houses were the first great works of art I saw as a child,” Edward Rice says. He saw them in Augusta, Ga., and Charleston, S.C., and began to draw them, forming a habit. After decades of painting traditional Southern buildings in meticulous fashion, often employing centuries-old techniques, Rice turns out to be somewhat of a modernist. His mature paintings “are precisely what they appear to be, yet also indefinably something else,” curator David Houston wrote in 1997. 

Rice’s buildings have personality beyond their architectural characteristics. They have a human quality and are in your face, staring at the viewer – the dormer and tower paintings even staring the viewer down. “I look for a certain quality in a building,” Rice says. “It’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it. It looks back at you, grabs you.”

Whatever modernist impulse Rice had at first was rooted in pre-World War II American paintings of, for instance, Edward Hopper and Charles Sheeler. He combined Hopper’s sensibilities with the precision and techniques of Italian Renaissance architectural painting, creating work that was about light or, rather, a specific feeling about light. 

Rice’s paintings were about shape, too, increasingly so in the 1990s, when he zoomed in on fragments of his subjects, eliminating much of their surroundings. For 1996’s Pendant, his first life-size architectural painting, Rice zoomed in so much that his subject came close to being an object. The more recent Cornice With Brick Façade, also life-size, is a set of horizontal bands of bricks and wood in which the only context, a strip of blue sky, provides just another band. In these paintings, as in Gable With Bracket I and II, Rice turns high realism into a stark minimalist geometry linked to the post-war abstract modernism of, say, Elsworth Kelly, Donald Judd and Frank Stella. That he uses traditional Southern buildings to do so gives the work a twist of Postmodern irony. And to paint paint and use painted wood to depict painted wood, as Rice does in Cornice With Brick Façade, a painting on panel, is not just clever but conceptual to boot.