The reemergence of William Brice as an active participant in the southern California art scene comes not simply as a welcome event but as a startling revelation. After a long period of creative isolation, Brice presents a group of twenty-four stunning drawings, at University of Redlands, that establishes him as an heir to the great Attic tradition.
This is a new Brice, who through systematic distillation and eventual elimination of those baroque mannerisms that characterized his work in the early sixties, now simplifies line, elevating his theme – the sensuous female nude – to a shimmering archaic elegance. Brice seems to have looked back to an ancient source, that great hymn, the Cycladic goddess.
Some contemporary influences are hinted at – Picasso, especially of the late twenties and early thirties, Matisse and maybe de Chirico, Greek by birth and Roman by mentality. But this could be conjecture, due more to a superficial similarity than anything else. After all, they, too, made that Arcadian pilgrimage earlier in the century.
Brice’s drawings are all the same size, eighteen by twenty-four, and made with compressed charcoal. They represent approximately five years of concentrated effort. After hours of working directly from the nude one day, on the next Brice would redraw the figure without the model present, searching for a contemporary ideal.
Some sheets include the whole figure, others only details, isolated parts, unconnected limbs and straight lines, but always with a completeness requiring nothing more. They are essentially abstractions, as was all the best of Greek art, but abstractions with a pulse that races with a love of life and pleasures of the erotic. They are an homage to the female nude, not an exploitation. In fact, they symbolize the love of a great culture, and the drawings as a whole become a paean to all women.
Each surface is immaculate, with no reworked areas, no corrections, no wavering, no faltering decisions. The drawings are a synthesis of mind and hand culminating in a quality rarely achieved by fusing past and present.
Although all Brice’s drawings are concerned with the figure, some parts recall marble architectural details, a broken triglyph or metope. The contrast of black charcoal and white paper, the crispness of application and the exhibition of the works without confusing frames go far to give the impression of a battered ancient temple frieze.
Individually the drawings are of fragmented parts scattered over the surface as seen in some sacred grove. If not completely identifiable, they still manage to move us. The presence of a magic ritual is felt, too, with a strange compelling power, but there are no titles to help us identify these cult figures and each sheet is simply initialed and dated.
Brice not only selected the drawings in this exhibition – they were culled from among many in his studio – but he also made a special trip to supervise sequence and installation. It is characteristic of Brice to weigh carefully all the relationships in the execution of a work, and it is a credit to him as an artist to continue that concern in their display.
Although a noted painter, Brice has always been absorbed with drawings. They are the history of his artistic growth and the source of his vitality. With this show, he reaches a new plateau, a real breakthrough and, most of all, a liberation. Now we see the emergence of a distinctively personal style – economical, serenely calm, transcending time and triumphant in the realization of achievement.