Although You Can't Drink Tea Out of Them…
"…They are launched without any fixed guidelines
into a boundless universe of absolute freedom."
By Jonathan Saville San Diego Reader, July 1, 1993
I have admired Tim Rice's lovely abstract paintings as they have appeared from time to time in the R. B. Stevenson Gallery, but the current show devoted exclusively to his work - and to his most recent work at that - quite bowled me over. These oils have a power, beauty, grandeur, and authority that decisively differentiates them from the common run of late-20th-century abstract expressionism.
This broad category is defined by a very small number of characteristics. Such paintings are non-figurative. They are, to a large extent, painterly: that is to say, their local texture is dominated by the free movement of the artist's hand, with the color areas irregularly modulated and blended, and with edges rough, soft, or spattered, rather than sharp. Forms and compositional structures are generally asymmetrical, spontaneous, unsystematic, "organic" rather than architectonic or geometrical. All these visual elements somehow suggest and evoke emotions, or an emotional state.
The artist makes all his own laws. If abstract expressionism is a "school," it encompasses a far greater range of individual differences than any artistic school of the past (such as Renaissance altarpieces or 19th century landscapes or Georgian teapots). When the abstract expressionist looks to tradition for technical suggestions, he may look at - and derive inspiration from - any tradition whatever.
In Tim Rice's case, the technical ancestry includes, as perhaps the foremost influence, the oil technique of Renaissance artists like Titian. Translucent glazes are thinly applied ( though in Rice's case with palette knife and plastic spreaders as well as the brush), one over the other in numerous layers. Rice - unlike Titian - builds these layers up in patches and dabs of different sizes and of roughly rectangular shape (although there are in fact no clear geometrical shapes and no straight lines). The resultant effect in Rice's oils is of a deep, rich, indefinite luminous space, with the quality - though not the literal appearance - of filtered sunlight, multi-hued clouds, underwater refractions, dappled forest shade, or reflections in a slightly disturbed pool surface.
Some of the paintings exhibit an overall dark tonality: a refulgent old gold The Promise of Light, or a delicately modulated ochre-and-olive drab (the diptych “Flow 1”) , or a profound navy merging toward black The Stranger Becomes Brother. Others have a brighter ground. For one (Toward Night), this is a lunar cream, gleaming through tumultuous black storm cloud-like flurries (or is it gleaming beige patches on a tumultuous black ground? - the ambiguity creates an energized flickering over the canvas). Another, May Play, consists of a warm cuprous ground, now bright and reflective, now shadowed, with small patches of rust, blue-green, and brown scattered over its surface. The background hue of Capriccio is a vivid turquoise, out of which float passages of red, yellow, blue and peach.
All these paintings are filled with local events - a stroke, a patch, a luminescence, a cluster, an emergence, a calligraphic swarm, a minute explosion - so that in most of them any section of the canvas would present a picture similar in textures, colors, and structures to the painting as a whole. Most of them are large, and their general uniformity (It is a uniformity of mood and atmosphere, as well as of analogous patterns) entices the mind to lose itself in them. You are absorbed into the floating, swarming radiant depths, and thereby taken out of yourself into what is experienced as another world. It is a world purely imaginative, but - at one level of perception - inevitably suggestive of identifiable objects and scenes: the distant fires over the devastated plains in Bruegel's depiction of war; the mists and mountains of a Japanese landscape (the spirit of Japanese art, with its intuitiveness and sense of beauty, is always present here), the shimmering surface of Monet's water lilies (representation on the brink of abstraction, rather than - as here - abstraction on the brink of figuration).
But this is truly abstract painting. Its non-representational forms, as in Pollock or Rothko, refer to a state of being beyond specific objects. More than personal emotion is involved. It is a spiritual reality that is gradually revealed to quiet contemplation, a vision of the universe. Here, too, one intuits a Japanese sense of vast natural power, a non-specific pantheism. An occasional canvas ( such as Kamo Gawa 1, referring to the river and surrounding area of Kyoto) shows the dramatic chiaroscuro and violent movement conventionally associated with "action painting" of the DeKooning type. But in a majority of these paintings at the Stevenson, the cosmic force revealed through the freely invented expressive forms is majestic, encompassing, profoundly calming. The ultimate experience in viewing Rice's paintings is having one's inmost identity - the enduring self beyond personality - breathtakingly enlarged.