Thursday, October 23, 2008

Essay: The Contemporary Edward Rice

By Wim Roefs
October 2008

With his Dublin I, II and III, of 2008, Edward Rice has created his first non-objective paintings; a 1998–1999 painting of a cross with equal-length arms against a white-blue sky also was minimal but still a cross. The Dublin paintings are squares divided into four equal, differently colored, smaller squares. They are studies in color and materials – that is, the properties and effects of different oil paints applied in various ways and color combinations.

The Dublin paintings succeeded Rice’s small, quickly executed Dark Barn paintings of 2007. These barn paintings all are the same size, pared down to the same basic, no frills shape – a two-thirds detail of a simple structure, painted straight on, flat and symmetrical, with its gaping entrance dead center, against a solid sky, and with a straight, horizontal band of space in front.

The Dark Barn paintings also are studies in color and materials. Rice arrived at the basic barn shape after creating several other barns of the same shape and positioning but in different sizes and colors. The initial barns, such as Small Barn of 2007, are basic, too, though not quite as stripped down as what would follow. They have more definition as real buildings, with an overhang that casts a shadow on the structures’ front, and are executed more exactly.

The first set of barns, modeled on a building that Rice had observed and photographed for years, developed from a long line of architectural paintings, stretching back to the mid-1990s, in which Rice meticulously rendered details of dormers, spires and steeples, cupolas, gables and facades in general. Those detail paintings themselves were preceded in the 1980s by numerous paintings of complete buildings, or, rather, facades, set in their environment. They include a series of mansions, more modest homes and other structures in Rice’s hometown, North Augusta, SC, where he has his studio, and Augusta, Ga., where he lives.

It would be tempting to view Rice’s development as a painter as a rather linear one, in which he moves neatly toward an increasingly stark, minimalist approach. That’s not quite the case. For one, while Rice is best known for his architectural paintings, he has created substantial bodies of landscape, botanical and figurative paintings and continues to do so along with the architectural works.

Not even his architectural paintings developed as seamlessly as the summary above suggests. While Rice in the mid-1990s made a more-or-less wholesale shift from full-fledged buildings to architectural details, his mid-1980s detail painting Dormer fits effortlessly in his later work. Moreover, since the late 1990s, Rice has zoomed in an out in his cropping of architectural elements. Consequently, the degree to which his compositions were minimal and abstract, yet highly detailed, has gone back and forth.

Palace (Urbino), 1996, comes across more abstracted than, say, Pilot House IV of 2001. Cornice With Brick Facade, 2002–2008, a realistic, life-size detail of horizontal bands of wood and bricks, is more minimal than, for instance, Dormer With Down Spout of 2003–2004, as is American Gable of 2007. The Dark Barn series preceded White Barn, with its well-defined facade. And the non-objective Dublin paintings won’t stop Rice’s return to meticulous representational paintings.

Perhaps Rice increasingly has discovered his modern, even contemporary self. His traditional methods and techniques, relentless study of old and early-modern masters and his intense focus on the effects of light and, consequently, on color, are well documented. But Rice never merely painted buildings, people or vegetation. From early on, he searched for qualities beyond the architectural structure, the figure or the plant.

His early paintings of mansions and modest homes had obvious social implications, as did Public Housing, 1995, in which a law enforcement center looms forebodingly over public housing. Many of Rice’s earlier architectural paintings have an eerie, even somewhat artificial quality. 923 Telfair, 1983–1986, depicts a mansion that at best looks like a dollhouse and at worse, like a place where scary stuff happens. The vegetation in 110 Briggs, 1985–1986, and 125 ½ Walker, 1982–1983, has an artificiality reminiscent of Henri “Le Douanier” Rousseau’s late-19th, early-20th-century work.

Rice’s buildings have a human quality and are in your face, staring at the viewer, the towers and dormers even staring the viewer down. His 21 late-1980s paintings of parts of one fig tree are studies in personality under changing circumstances. Sunflower In August, 2005, takes on a different life once it’s clear that the work is based on John J. Audubon’s 19th-century bird prints. Sunflower In June, 2005, has distinctly human qualities.

In his architectural work, Rice’s search for personality beyond the structure has led him to study less, more, including smaller patches of light more intensely. Several grisaille paintings forced a focus on shape, structure and line. Zooming in on details and eliminating context increased the focus on line, geometric shapes and their interaction as well as the characteristics of materials, both those of the architectural structures and Rice’s paints. In the process, Rice has connected to modern and contemporary art. He took a different route to elements of minimal, abstract and conceptual art than most but has arrived there nevertheless.

Wim Roefs is the owner of if ART Gallery, Columbia, SC

No comments: