Friday 15 December 2017

What Lies Beneath, 502 Lucerne by Edward Rice

  • 502 Lucerne by Edward Rice, Oil on canvas, Courtesy Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina

Lucerne by Edward Rice
Lucerne by Edward Rice

Niall MacMonagle

Edward Rice remembers "drawing at my grandmother's kitchen table as a very small child". He was two, and that table was in this house at 502 Lucerne, in North Augusta, South Carolina. Thirty years later, in a style that he terms "straight-forward realism" he painted "on site" this same neat house, the carpet-smooth lawn.

The brilliantly accurate detail is typical of Rice's work: the sharp depiction of architectural features in bright light.

Unusually, this painting also contains a figure, "my long-deceased maternal grandmother who was quite the gardener. She spent the last 30 years of her life in the little house on Lucerne". On the right, oleander flowers - the painting also includes camellia, azalea, dogwood, pine and Carolina cherry.

The work is dated 1983-1986: "the grass was painted blade by blade, hence the three years".

Edward Hopper is an influence, and are Hockney's Californian lawns referenced here? Rice agrees: "I even thought of putting the sprinkler on."

His grandmother was "the model of contentment", so yes, this is a portrait of "a content, calm old age". And what does Edward Rice, make of growing old? "Live free, die free," is his philosophy.

Rice has a studio and house in Clonakilty, and has painted West Cork landscapes. "Upon my return, America always looks so American. My goal is to capture that quality." He once made 21 paintings, over two years, of the fig tree outside his studio window. Is that too repetitive? "It's like a guy playing a solo on the saxophone over and over but each time he makes it a little different, like more sad or more soulful or more alert." And choosing his subject matter? "I just know it, feel it. It is a very definite thing."

At the kitchen table in this house Edward Rice began making art. "The house is now my studio. I raised the roof, put in skylights". In this work he celebrates what man has built, what woman has created: house and garden.

Raised Catholic, he no longer attends a church but "I believe in the Spirit", and in the self-contained, seated figure of his grandmother, beside an empty chair, her spirit lives on.

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