"The later self-portraits don’t hold the viewer at an impersonal distance, as does The Green Man, his earliest self-portrait. In a 1988 likeness, my father appears contemplative and content, almost blissful, rendered in warm blues, yellows, and browns that blend with the soft landscape.
There are two final self-portraits, both from ten years later. Frustration and anger are evident in the dissatisfied curl of the lips, the dark reddened eyes, his slumped posture, and the defensive tuck of his chin. My father glowers from the canvas. I imagine clenched fists beyond the frame. His eyesight was worsening and his hands stiff with arthritis. There is the sense of throwing paint at the canvas before it’s too late, before he no longer can. The image is universal. The subject might be any old man, bitter and beaten, witness to his own decline, to the inexorable loss of self by slow humbling degrees. Time had run out. Any remaining plans, any hopes or dreams for this life, would remain unrealized.
My father’s face on the eve of his 80th birthday, captured with unblinking honesty,is heartbreaking. It is also a crowning artistic achievement. All the years of serial bouquets and figure studies had led to this: an expansion in his artistic vision and capacity that my father pursued in typical inward fashion, unconcerned with what others might think.
excerpt from: The Reluctant Artist: Joe Rice 1918 - 2011
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