Paint-like too is the Maternal Figure (1957), a pregnant woman with two children, holding the younger to her breast and comforting and sheltering the older. All are locked in tonal areas that are shadowy and absorbent, with their separate forms dependent on a hair crisp line, and the bulk is all the better defined for not being modeled. (A similar unaccountable plus will come later when hard outlined drawings proved to be just as tonal: it is the smudge that releases the figure and lets it breathe and shift its weight.) This mother and children drawing is one of a series of over-full figures not unrelated to the still earlier over-full, overly large landscapes; and here the landscape is equally full, however slight. A sea horizon arcs with a curving world just as the figure arcs with humanity within and without, and both come up against an indeterminate bulk and buttress of rock. This is a summation drawing that stands for its species as does the exceptional Slumbering Head (1957), larger than life and felt to be so, maternally and oppressively close, with hair in dark blocks like a weight of dreams. Here, blankets mock up anatomy as they so often do: the eye goes from fold to fold, sensuous curiosity at once stirred and rebuked. This is an outstanding drawing.
Then there is Woman in a Print Dress (1964), a figure in an armchair: a frontal pose and an over-full composition too: but a flat design takes advantage of the bulk for the tension between two and three dimensions, and the tortoiseshell pattern of the dress repeats itself in the dark island shapes in window and floor. These units of dark form are made plausible here, but we know and remember that Brice likes to make drawings that are assembled out of fragments. It is the puzzle of numerous loosely knit parts becoming a single personality that is at the heart of the humanism of these drawings.
We are running through chronology too fast; an exceptional study in the holding together of the disparate is the Woman with Glasses (1956). A smudged tone half defines the form, and then half ignores it in moving hazily far afield, while an impressive meandering outline clears up a shape of head that confesses blousily to age. A distorted pudginess leads out from nostril to cheek; but what really lets us into the personality is the glasses, for the eyes are happier sitting out front in the glasses, that are like box seats for their curiosity, than in staying in their sockets; they have come out to observe like the eyes of turtles. And then the mouth goes its own separate way only related to the face by a common interest: a double purpose mouth with teeth visibly grinding food into words.
There is a remarkable figureless world, Nocturnal Fragments (1960): tree, root, bone, near enough to living forms to have a good deal of death in the mixture but of a dry desert sort, full of warning but not repugnant. And now we come to the time when the method, the technic grows drier; we come to true drawing, a purist might say. We come to drawings that could not easily be made into paintings. They are solemn and they contort a figure into a brooding pensive mood, often with a heavy hanging head, for instance Walking Figure and Sun (1965). These figures are under the control of such a languor, such an animal relaxation, that we are left uncertain even of gravity, for they may be either standing or lying, and we are hardly obliged to determine which is the case.
Now follows a curious thing which is especially Brice. These figures are so surrounded by a few trees or rocks, or boxes that may prove to be a sequence of window panes—so surrounded by island objects that compress space between them, that the atmosphere becomes palpable and viscous. This amniotic broth, as in Reflections and Rock (1965), arouses thoughts of a time before birth, and one cannot say whether these figures are waiting to give birth to happiness or waiting to be born into it. There is a late drawing, Oval Pond Reflection (1965), that says all this: it is at once a figure in an enclosing womb and in a whole round world; but it is also a figure in amber or even a variegated stone, an agate holding the figure in its destiny.
One of the strongest of the drawings, that lets in bold light—relying for its strength on the action of light, not the action of the model—is Kneeling Figure (1956). It proves that Brice can be crisp. Early and late, there are lovers. Two Figures and Root (1960) and Figures and a Landscape (1964) are drawn with deliberate confusion—such fluency should be meditated upon, if only for the realization of what Brice disciplines and restrains; Two Figures and Window (1964) shows the figures questioning why they are at that window: it is not desire that produces guilt, it is returning desire that makes guilt liveable.
Something else which is special in Brice: we rather believe that a figure, a subject or model, was there to start with, and yet with certain portrait exceptions the figure becomes transformed into someone we cannot precisely know—not only this but the figure no longer knows herself. This loss of focus, strangely increasing the intensity, evokes the experience of first love (we discover) and we must reflect that certain artists are able to isolate an emotion, and make it the driving force for their work. There is a persistent blending of sensuous involvement and detachment, a surrendering, an acceptance of emotion as fate, which is at the heart of the compelling quality in these drawings.
Frederick S. Wight