There is a long tradition in American visual culture dating back to the mid-nineteenth century to the advent of the so-called Hudson River school of painting in which vast panoramas of the still-virginal wilderness that characterized so much of the New World terrain of North America, from the Adirondacks and Yosemite, were the celebrated focus of the emergence of a distinctly American art form.
HUDSON RIVER SCHOOL
It is fair to say that William Brice is an inheritor of that American tradition. While his domestic and natural landscape is far more intimate than the idealized mountains, rivers, forests, and oceans of the Hudson River painters, and his rendering is less fantastical, he shares their subject matter and their reverence for the beauty, power, and pervasiveness of nature and humankind’s unity with nature—and possibly for their sense of transcendence.
From his early works of the 1940’s to his very late works of the 2000’s, nature appears as a recurring theme in Brice’s art. Stones, rocks, mountains, deserts, beaches, the ocean, flowing water, grass, flowers, trees, and lush vegetation as dense as a thicket are monumental “protagonists” that often surround or merge with the very figures who populate the natural world.
But it is not just the nature in landscape—from the wilderness to domestic gardens—that so frequently imbues his art with a sense of natural wonder and mystery. Much of Brice’s oeuvre is centrally concerned with deep aspects of Eros and Thanatos, with fertility and notions of the continuity of life in the creation of new life and of the passing of life. These, too, are nature, and Brice presents them as a triumphal, transcendent reality.
Brice’s late works are the contemporary visual equivalent of Walt Whitman’s “barbaric yawp.”