“Stan Rice - Paintings, at Galerie Simonne Stern”

Stan Rice is best known as a poet.  Long established in San Francisco, he and his novelist wife, Anne Rice, moved to New Orleans a few years ago.  Like many poets and writers, from William Blake to D. H. Lawrence, Stan Rice is also a painter.  For the last few years, the painted image has taken special hold, and Rice’s quest is now visual as much as verbal.  The work that was shown at Galerie Simonne Stern March 7 through April 1 is bold and colorful, with a number of intriguing images–along with some rough edges.

The paintings are generally of the expressionistic variety–anarchic, dream-like images that seem to bubble up in a kind of witches’ brew of semi-digested phantasms from the subconscious.  Some are like stream of consciousness dream sequences, a tangled maze of personal recollections, some are sociological, and others are mythic.  Most have a phantasmagorical quality that is theatrical, a sense of life as a masked pageant.  In this, they are like James Ensor’s Ostend paintings, which they vaguely resemble.  Both possess a sense of lurid immediacy, an incisive absurdity.

For instance, the most recent painting in the show, Hitler Denies to Six Million Jews the Watermelon of Life, is a pastiche, a collage featuring the painted central image of an elderly Jewish gentleman strikingly like Albert Einstein in front of a huge red watermelon slice.  The watermelon is like a memento of the rural South–all flanked by a photo of Hitler and fans, scene of a hanging, etc.

An effective recent painting, Crime Scene, is equally anarchic.  This also features images that seem to be hanging in space.  In this case, shafts of window-gridded urban towers vertically punctuate the canvas, flanked by gleaming diagonal slashes of city streets on which autos glide like dazed bugs. 

This forms the background for the central figures, a field of mask-like faces, victims and perpetrators in purple, charcoal, ash-white and blood red.  A black pistol is silhouetted against a white shirt, while all the images seem to float in a suspended danse macabre, a ritual slow dance of death and dread in passionate color, with a hint of the strangely heightened sense of ecstatic life that arises when reason and life are imperiled. 

Rice is still evolving as a painter, and his rambling, often less-than-polished imagery may be confusing to some.  But the soul of the poet shines through the chaos, and despite the rough edges, there is an overall joy of creation in evidence.  Rice’s evolution will be followed with interest.

April 7, 1992

“The Paintings Of The Poet”

Style is a term we use to organize our thinking about art and art history.  In its most benign form, it signifies a group of characteristics associated with a specific place, time, or culture.  One can say that this vase is from the Ming period and that kylix is in the Archaic Greek Black Figure style, this painting is by Monet and that one is by Pissarro, or this mixed media work is by Rauschenberg and the other is the work of Jasper Johns.

As a product of the Romantic thought that produced our ideas of history and progress, style came to represent culturally specific ideas and values.  What could be used to simply refer to a technique of working or an appearance can become laden with conscious values representing a view of the world or unconscious values of class, gender, race, et   cetera.  One painting by Caravaggio was considered blasphemous and ejected from a church.  Nineteenth century Realism challenged conventional taste.  Impressionism was seen was a threat to the existing social order.  French Symbolism can be accurately described as both reactionary and revolutionary.  Modernism grew out of ideas about the history of history and consciousness. 

The development of the art market valued the individual hand as a unique commodity yet shied away from the new because it lacked established economic value.  The idea of the avant garde evolved hand in hand with anarcho-capitalism as a revolutionary art and entrepreneurial capitalism grew out of shared ideas. As New York became a major center of the art world after World War II, it came to represent values considered antithetical to art and the venue for an art that challenged the newly accepted tastes however recent.

Feminism and multiculturalism developed from the same ideas that were used to exclude them as universalism was replaced by pluralism.  Hairy Who of Chicago and Bay area California Funk combined a love of making art with biting satire and the Guerilla Girls in New York and Guerilla Theater in the Bay Area challenged exclusive practices while Lucy Lippard researched her important books.

This is the context in which I situate my thinking about the paintings of Stan Rice.  His is a style that rejects the idea of style as a standard or norm.  Each work is considered one by one without evaluating it according to any rules.  It is a way of working that can follow the necessities of the moment, an art created in response to the world rather than as the shaping of the world around an idea about art.  Of course, Rice is influenced by his education and experience but I suspect the process is one that consciously avoids dogmatic theoretical overtones.  Any patterns that appear will be my own.  Any relationship between technique and meaning will be a tenuous one.  Rice’s paintings resist simple explanations or profound truths.  What stands out is the artist’s sense of humor, his wit, a sense of parody that makes art itself its subject, and, occasionally, subdued outrage.

The early works reveal a range of interests.  The simple elements of Dry Streambed Stones combine to form a study of variations of shape, value, and color harmonies within a narrow range.  Nineteen stones washed into irregular shapes by the passing waters lie in a light ochre streambed flanked by green grassy banks.  You’re Innocent When You Dream contrasts the idea of innocence with the glowering eyes of  hairy-faced beasts and the deeper levels of the dream consciousness with a primeval forested world.  Thin undulating trees are balanced with vertical trunks.  Suggestions of spatial relations through overlapping shapes are accented by the view of mountains and blue sky above the canopy of trees.  The variety of patterns created by palm fronds, leaves, vines, and hair are distant echoes of Rousseau.

The flat color shapes of Open Window from September 1995 are reminiscent of Milton Avery.  The icing on the cake seems to flow down the sides of the cake.  Yellow flames of pink birthday candles are the sole evidence of a breeze blowing through the open window at the left, a sensation of movement that seems to contradict the still order of the design.  This interest in the interplay between surfaces and shapes is reinterpreted in One Tulip from 1999.  A thin green stem rises through a field of red to the single corolla of the flower embedded in the red substance of the paint.  The gestural working of the painted surface that may pass unnoticed in Open Window is now a feature of the work.  Four large tulips in Four Tulips are arranged in a row and placed in front of a ground formed of orange, blue, and green horizontal zones.  The lower area is strewn with hundreds of tiny red tulips amid the green grass.  Stones drawn in darker blue against a lighter tone form a wall above the grass, and higher still is the orange-yellow sky decorated with various limned patterns.

Sometimes Rice seems to be interested in parodies of styles.  Poker Hands has elements reminiscent of Matisse, Cezanne, and Baselitz.  The open window at the upper left bridges the space between the interior and the green lawn and the light blue sky outside while three card players holding their cards sit around a small table.  The sketchy, cartoon-like figures hold real cards while a multitude of yellow bees stream into the room in an S-shaped formation.  Caricature-like figures parody a representation of the biblical tale of Cain Slays Abel.  A tall, red, horned devil standing along the left side watches as the arms of Cain, repeated three times, holding a club, also repeated three times, swing overhead as Cain prepares to bash in the head of a long blond-haired Abel seated at his computer in the lower right corner.  The impression of motion created by the repetition of arms and club is accented by the diagonal lines of the skewed floor and wall and the expressive handling of the paint while eyes seem to pop out of heads like those of Ottonian illuminated manuscripts.

A witty humor and a comical macabre enlivens In the Accounting Department.  Nervous lines and surfaces express the tension and humor after working in an accounting department for one year.  The secretary’s chair is placed to the left of center, seat and backrest askew.  A plain yellow lightbulb hangs from the unseen ceiling of a wood paneled room.  A dead monarch butterfly and crushed moth lay under the wheels of the chair.  Three koi swim inexplicably through the room while a frowning face with a crack running from the top of the head, across the bridge of the nose, and into the left eye sits on the seat.  The words “One year in the accounting department.  I became a Zen master.”  are painted as if typed in the traditional typographic font in the courier style.  Is this a reference to a revelation of the mysteries of accounting to a poetic mind?

Sometimes the artist’s sense humor has a tender touch as when he paints the Flying Pig.  This pig sits quietly like one’s favorite dog waiting patiently for his owner’s next pat on the head.  Delicately pink pig flesh and bright red snout, eyes, ears, and wings complement the subdued tones of the background.  The irregular markings of the Dalmatian Dog are framed by geometric patterns, complementary color schemes, and warm color harmonies in the rug and room.  The dog rests comfortably with his hind legs relaxed, front paws turned in, and half-raised head as he watches us.  The painting of the dog’s coat suggests a love of the substance of paint as if Rice were petting this pet through the medium of paint.

The Lone Ranger Chases the Four Horsemen Out of the Twentieth Century offers many possibilities of interpretation.  The famous Masked Man who pursues justice with the elan of Superman brings criminals to justice and redresses the misfortunes of the victims.  He chases the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from Durer’s woodcuts for the Book of Revelation across the page like a scene from a television western.  With the energy of a Frederick Remington painting or a Zane Grey novel, these symbols of deferred justice from the late fifteenth century are chased by the idealized, anonymous hero from the western mythic tradition.  The painting mimics both the woodcut technique and the comic book, each the popular medium of their respective times.  Lack of consistent relationship between the brushwork, form, and space in the clouds, the slicing of Silver’s legs by the mirage, and the lines of the horsemen’s robes fluttering in the wind suggest the difference between content and form, tradition and experience in the postmodern world.

Some newer works exhibit a density of images and compositional complexity that may have come about from the artist’s growth.  A multi-colored bouquet of tulips, a clown, and a tiger-headed man dressed in a tuxedo suit are crowded together in the foreground space in Clown and Tiger Seeking Velvet.  A hand in the left corner has been projected onto the canvas and painted over.  The clown has been reworked from a child’s drawing discovered accidentally by the artist.  The realism of the tiger head contrasts with the expressive distortions of the clown’s head yet both seem at home in this collage of styles and techniques.  Behind this foreground space, the grid-lock regularity of the background is relieved by the freely drawn horizontal and vertical lines that create it.

Imagining Man is an intricately layered composition.  Images seems to rise from the head of the man at the lower edge drawing the palms of his hands down his face.  The typed text of a poem floats between a setting red hen in the foreground and an aerial perspective view of Manhattan buildings in the background.  Two flame-like translucent rooster shapes rise above the back of the bird.  A cluster of seven children’s heads surrounded by dark gold auras lie beneath the fanned-out tail like eggs waiting to be hatched.  The pattern of feathers on the shoulder of the wing seems to be morphing into or out of other shapes.  A spotted cat appears behind the text of the poem like the lynx that eyes us in the frontispiece for Goya’s Caprices.  Two human (?) eyes peer through a rent in the paper on which the poem is typed.  Along the bottom a row of smouldering matches aligned parallel with the Imagining Man’s head set the images ablaze as if a reference to the last scene of Like Water for Chocolate.

Rice builds Little Red Riding Hood around the familiar children’s story.  Eight scenes from that bedtime story are arranged in a three by three grid beginning at the upper left.  Yes, eight, and in the ninth position at the lower right the first scene is repeated as if the story is to begin again as it has been so many times.  The eye is led back to position one by the strong diagonal that passes from the lower right to upper left.  After the thousand and more tellings of the tale, one wonders why it retains its appeal from generation to generation even when one has heard it before.  The storyteller’s art goes beyond the simple narrative account to the way that it is told, the inflections of the voice, the changes in tone, some of which accent the tale and others having a life of their own.  Here is where the storyteller, poet, and artist have their common ground.  Each according to their respective media.  The brushwork and visual elements of the painter parallel the sounds of spoken language and the nuances of the written word, sometimes working in harmony with the images and the narrative while at other times having their own sensuous appeal.  This is another interesting aspect of Rice’s painted works.  It is not easy to not do things the way others do and to handle one’s medium in an individual way.

Sometimes Rice seems to just be having fun.  The many patterns in Tiger Hunt - the dotted green headdress, the striped howdah in which the rani rides, the swirling hairs of the elephant with his bright red coat, the parallel trunks of the trees and the bars of the cage - interplay with the suggestion of space through distorted perspective lines, overlapping patterns and shapes, and dramatic changes in scale.  The Receptionist with eleven eyes turns away from her typing to watch the viewer as a man measured in heads appears in the door.  Sinuously curving lines combine pattern and variation in a two dimensional plane that is then denied us as the dark trees along the upper edge indicate a bank, a boat and paddler appears at the left, and the lines drop vertically as they near the right side in an impression of a waterfall.  Rubber Rat Box Top pokes fun at package design that promotes what lies waiting within with a huge rat and friends nibbling their way through a kitchen room.

Stan Rice’s paintings are an unpretentious art.  They are certainly not naive or inept.  His paintings express a certain delight in the selecting of images, the arrangement of the elements of style, and the handling of the paint.  His is a style without a style that can be just fun.  There is no puffery here, no grand metaphysical truths, or historical necessity.  These works are the work of one who simply likes to paint.

N.O.A.R. - The New Orleans Art Review
May/June 1999



What happens when a poet paints?  “Anything and everything” might be the answer, at least when the poet is Stan Rice.  His paintings have been called “dream paintings – not because they describe dreams per se, but because they reveal a dream-like poetic reverie in images from the nether realms where all things are possible – if only in the mind of the dreamer.”  Sacrificial Piglet depicts portions of a girl-child, an Asian saint, a pig and a cyclops-teddy bear jumbled together into a single figure.  In the background, the sun is setting over a tropical village, and the scene is darkly mysterious, no less than the creations of Rice’s spouse, a well-known vampire novelist.  But such things are not unexpected in a gallery located at St. Elizabeth’s Orphanage Museum, a Victorian fantasy castle that once housed foundling girl-children, but which now houses the Rice collection of weird stuff.  May marks the first anniversary of the Stan Rice Gallery, and this show, featuring works created in the last six months, is an opportunity for the public to view the poet’s progress in paints.  The show at the Stan Rice Gallery (1314 Napoleon Ave., 897-9966) is ongoing.

Gambit Weekly
May 9, 2000