Sensitivity and vitality are still valid criteria in the consideration of contemporary painting. It would be hard to find these qualities developed to a greater degree than is found in the latest paintings by William Brice, now at the Felix Landau Gallery.
In his continual experimentation with the metamorphoses and the juxtaposition of the human form with that of other nature forms, Brice, one of the few truly masterly West Coast painters, has turned an important corner. We are faced here with the complete assimilation of many influences that have played on the mind and emotions of a mature artist. The result is a powerful personal symbology which strikes a universal core through its basically romantic expressionism.
The erudition of Brice’s performance in no way mitigates the moving impact of his variations on the theme of essential isolation – a mood that pervades even those of his paintings and pastels that speak of sexual expectation and fulfillment.
Yet if his works often constitute interpretations of despairing, sometimes even tragic, thoughts and feelings, their own tensions of colors and forms, their innate beauty, often offer transcending and inspiring experiences.
Brice no longer merges the figure (which remains his main concern) with landscape forms. But these landscape forms frequently take on human connotations, while his nude figures project a vulnerability that is not to be confused with passivity.
Two large oils, “Two Figures” and “Seated Figure in Landscape,” call upon all the virtuosity and subtlety of which this artist is capable. They are striking and memorable images which refute a long-standing fallacy that “finished” painting lack subjective impact these days.
A variety of pervasive moods is captured in such smaller oils as “Figure and Blue Tree” and “Figure in Pond Mist.” Perhaps the most scintillating contributions to this outstanding exhibition are found in an impressive series of pastels, including the most lyrical and most delicate work in the show “Spring Stream.”
That all of Brice’s accomplishments basically rest on his extraordinary draftsmanship is made abundantly clear by the drawings shown here including such evocative papers as “Waking Figure and Sun,” “Tree Stumps” and “House by Stream.”
In painting primarily for and, out of himself, Brice, in mid career, seems to have reached the stage where he has broken through many carefully built defenses to share with us, in a most convincing manner, his dreams and his nightmares.