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Care Takers 

Slow and steady wins the race for these two artists

At first pass, the work currently on display at Hodges Taylor Gallery appears to be a study in contrasts. Mark Flowers' paintings are abstract and rely upon a highly personal visual vocabulary. Edward Rice's paintings are examples of pure representation and depend upon well-honed drafting and painting skills. While Flowers' work appears unrestrained, Rice's is just the opposite. Flowers' compositions are open and loose, his painting style is exuberant. Rice's canvases are instead tight and taut, his painting style more austere. However, if we look beneath the surface, we see two artists who are dedicated to the craft of making art from start to finish, and we learn that appearances can be deceiving. In his 20th year with Hodges Taylor Gallery, Mark Flowers' recent work continues his ongoing exploration and expansion of his medium and visual vocabulary. The paintings in this exhibit, all created in the past year, represent a year in the life of this artist. After talking with Flowers about the work, it became clear that his work is as much about articulating an inner world as it is about making art.

Each of Flowers' paintings is the equivalent of several journal entries that deal with a related concern. I use this as an analogy because the impetus behind these paintings and their subject matter is to make the internal external. Because of this, each painting in the show, though created in the span of a year, is discrete. Each object focuses on a particular issue, concern or experience that affected the artist enough to warrant deeper investigation in his preferred medium of communication.

However, this is not to say that the work is heavy or somber -- in fact, there's a lightness and a sense of humor at work in these abstract paintings that explore complicated subjects. The sense of play comes from a visual vocabulary that includes arrows, spinning cups, actual rocks and forms of houses and housing. It also comes from the way in which Flowers transforms discarded items like dresser drawers into surfaces for painting, as in "For the Love of a Good Woman." Using physical and visual metaphor, this painting celebrates and explores the complicated nature of long-term relationships.

"The Wake-Up Call" is another good example of Flowers' working methods. This mixed media object presents two fused but separate panels, each prepped with wood putty for added texture. This painting is Flowers' own meditation of sorts on the tragedies of September 11. The panel on the right portrays the interruption of the stillness of night because of a light that illuminates a house window in darkness. The panel on the left, however, is bright and filled with light. At first glance, it appears only to represent a pattern of dark shapes on a light ground, but once the eyes adjust, they see the outline of airplanes. Along the top of the painting are more discarded items. This time, Flowers has placed upside-down sofa legs on the painting's upper edge that appear like missiles ready to blast. Again, we're presented with an object that invites us to explore a difficult moment through both visual and physical means rather than resort to a literal and biased telling of events.

Edward Rice has been exhibiting in group shows at Hodges Taylor for the past few years, but this is his first solo exhibit at the gallery. Rice's work differs from Flowers in that it's representational as opposed to abstract. Rice's work could easily be dismissed as representations of architecture, but it's not that simple. Rice, like Flowers, is as dedicated to capturing the essence of that which is being represented as he is to the act of making the object.

The exhibit features 10 paintings by Rice, 10 paintings that examine three architectural subjects. There are two paintings of a birdhouse, four paintings of the Pilot House in Charleston, SC, and four paintings of an abandoned house in Augusta, GA (Rice's home). Though similar in some ways, each grouping of paintings is completely different in terms of the palette used and the mood that it creates.

The subjects that Rice is drawn to could easily become hackneyed, but his careful treatment and rendering, plus the fact that each object he depicts has personal meaning for him, prevent them from becoming mere cliches. Rice cares about the objects that he paints, and he's known most of them for a very long time. Much like Flowers, these objects are Rice's personal visual vocabulary, an important part of his life. For example, the Pilot House cupola that's featured in the exhibit is the detail of a building that he has admired and been intrigued with for nearly 30 years. Rice's working style begins with preparatory sketches on site, sketches that determine the composition of the painting. Next, he takes photographs, but the photos that he takes are based on his drawings. He does this because the painting is based on the drawing, not on the photograph. He then works from the photograph based on the original sketch.

Edward Rice's interest in light and color, as well as his delight in the medium of paint, show in the paintings depicted throughout the exhibit. The series of paintings titled "Abandoned Houses" and "Pilot House" both illustrate the way in which the skillful use of color and the handling of the brush can evoke daybreak or twilight and the different moods that often accompany those times of day. My favorite painting in the exhibit is "Birdhouse II"; I'm drawn to paintings where I can see the brushstrokes and virtually feel the texture of the paint. It wasn't surprising to learn when I interviewed Rice the afternoon before the gallery opening that he had worked on this painting for a year. His skill as a painter and his personal affinity with the subject show in this well-crafted object.

The paintings currently on display at Hodges Taylor Gallery show care in their making. If you spend even just a small amount of time looking and thinking about these paintings, it's obvious that Mark Flowers and Edward Rice took more than a day or two to create these images. This is admirable compared to art and a lot of other things that are made today. It seems that the interest in our world is more about the finished product and less about the process that leads us there. This is really too bad, because it's the process, not the product, that presents us with discovery: discovery of self and ideas as well as the world in which we live.

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