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.