An interview at Bridport Arts Centre with the artist Brian Rice, exhumed from the archives to celebrate the current exhibition at the Redfern Gallery in London – Brian Rice: Early Works 1959-1970.
Brian was born in Yeovil in 1936 and grew up in the nearby villages of Tintinhull and Montacute. On his father’s side, his family came from South Somerset. On his mother’s side, from Dorset, from Lyme Regis and from Whitchurch Canonicorum in the Marshwood Vale. “We were peasants,” he says.
Brian went to Yeovil Grammar School, Yeovil School of Art, did two years of National Service with the Army and then trained as a art teacher at Goldsmiths College in London. He did a year’s teaching at a secondary school in High Wycombe, and then resigned in the summer of 1960 and went to the Sahara desert. “It just came to me sitting out in the desert waiting for lifts that being a painter was what I wanted to do more than anything else.”
He cycled back from Gibraltar to Montacute (he was a superb cyclist and used to race for the army) and a disused chicken shed next to his parent’s house became his studio. Brian also worked as a gardener; one of his jobs was to maintain the graveyard at West Coker. He was disgusted by the racism of the vicar’s wife at West Coker, and his painting “Persil For Whites Only”, in the Redfern Gallery show, is a rare, explicitly political work. Otherwise, as Ian Massey remarks in the excellent show catalogue, there is in some of the work from this period “a residual neo-romanticism… informed by the landscapes of Piper and Sutherland.”
Through 1961, Brian had paintings accepted for several group shows. The Bath and Wilts Evening Chronicle praised the “strength and virility” in his work.
Early in 1962, keen to develop his artistic career, he moved back to London… and that is some of the background to the chat in the video above, which covers subjects including the impact of London on Brian and his art, how he used to hire out works for movies, magazine shoots and adverts, how he was part of a working-class grouping that felt it was changing the visual face of Britain – and so on.
There’s a great selection of images on the Redfern Gallery website:http://www.redfern-gallery.com/brian-… Having a look there is highly recommended. The exhibition itself is on until March 1.
NB: These notes above also draw on an essay by Sara Hudston (http://www.watershedpr.co.uk) in the 2001 University of Brighton Gallery catalogue Brian Rice: Retrospective Exhibition. The video above was filmed when this exhibition travelled to Bridport Arts Centre in 2002. We’ll also see if we can exhume from the archives another interview with Brian in which he talks about returning to the South West to live in Dorset at the end of the Sixties and the start of the Seventies.