Posted // 2013-01-04 -
One of the more curious sights on the Utah art scene the past few years has been the mysterious spacemen designs that pop up from time to time, but very few seem to recognize where they come from. These would be the creations of Andrew Rice, one of the more interesting artists currently putting works into the scene with a combination of screenprints, intaglio, pattern and installation pieces. Rice's work, mostly in black-and-white with his faceless subject, have been a prominent feature in showcases both around the state and on a national level as he's branched out to New York, Missouri and Hawaii.
Today, I chat with Rice about his college years and career, coming up through both the Utah and Colorado scenes, thoughts on the current art coming out of Salt Lake City and a few other topics along the way. (All photos courtesy of Andrew Rice.)
Gavin: Hey, Andrew. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Andrew: Hey, Gavin. I’m from Colorado and moved to Utah six years ago after I graduated college to check out the skiing here. I moved around a couple of times before settling here full time four years ago.
Gavin: What first got you interested in art, and what were some early influences on you?
Andrew: I started out as a young kid drawing a lot of birds, I remember, and then as I grew a bit older, it was X-Men, Spider-Man and Spawn comics that kept my childhood interest in drawing alive. I loved the bold and visceral nature of the comic. I think the comics are what initiated my interest in the human condition that I am still working with today. A lot of what interests me about the characters in the comics is that they are all so human despite their status as "hero." In high school, I made sure I was always in an art class and then carried that into my college career.
Gavin: You received your BFA from the University of Colorado, Boulder. What made you decide on CU-Boulder, and what was your time like there?
Andrew: I went to CU-Boulder because I got a scholarship for golf caddying. That made the decision to go there really easy, ha. It was college in every sense of the experience. That could be a whole other conversation, haha, but sparing the details, it was good. I was away from home, figuring myself out and all that wholesome stuff.
Gavin: During your time in Colorado, what drew you toward etching and screenprinting works?
Andrew: I randomly signed up for a beginning printmaking class my second year there because I couldn’t get into the drawing class I wanted to. Thank God I did that, ha. I knew from the first project that semester that printmaking was where I wanted to focus my energy. The process was so visceral to me. It was like drawing but with these variables that you couldn’t always account for, especially when you are just learning. There was a line quality and image quality that was just so different to me in the prints. I actually did a lot of lithography there and then got into the etchings towards the end of my time there. I never actually started screenprinting until I got to the U.
Gavin: What was it like for you breaking into their local art scene and contributing to exhibitions and galleries?
Andrew: I didn’t do much exhibiting there, actually. I was really just trying to figure out what I was doing. Toward the end, I had a direction I was working and a small "body" of work that was almost coherent. It wasn’t really until our final BFA show that I felt confident with what I was showing. I think our whole group felt like that at the time. The grad students, professors and gallery staff told us our show was the best they had seen in years, and while I don’t know if that was true, it did confirm for me that I should continue pursuing this in some facet. It wasn’t until a couple of years after graduating CU that I decided to try and show my work again.
Gavin: How did the decision come about to seek your MFA elsewhere, and what made you choose the University of Utah?
Andrew: I knew I wanted to pursue an MFA while I was still in Boulder, and made friends with a couple of the grad students there at the time. They all told me to wait, though, and not go straight out of undergrad into grad school and to go when it felt right. I was living here when I started making some new relief prints and being really excited about them. I had been looking at schools for a couple of years somewhat diligently but without really pursuing anything, and I had a lot of California schools on my radar. I got to a point one day in, like, February where I realized I wasn’t really doing anything and decided that day to apply to the U. I liked the school and the people I met from there and was happy living here so it seemed like a good fit. If I got in I would go, and if I didn’t I would buckle down, work on my portfolio and try again next year at some other schools. I sent in my application on the final date they were accepting without any supporting materials and I kept getting calls and e-mails to send letters of rec and statement of interest and all that fun stuff. After all that, they decided it would be a good idea to accept me into their program, haha. I’m glad they did, too. My experience at the U was great. Like most things in life, you make the situation what you want. I had a great experience and got so much out of the program. An MFA is certainly not necessary to being an artist but it was necessary for me to be at the place I am at today.
Gavin: Being a lifelong Colorado native, how was it for you adjusting to SLC and the local art scene here, and how has your time at the U been?
Andrew: It has its difficulties and obstacles, for sure. Colorado has such a diverse and vibrant art scene that is recognized internationally. I feel like we have all the elements here and the arts community is just trying to convince the rest of the population to pay attention, haha. The arts are definitely supported here in a big way, but it seems like the visual arts aren’t at the top of that list. That has been somewhat frustrating seeing the uphill battle, but that’s what it is. There are so many amazing artists here and good things are definitely happening. I think Adam moving CUAC downtown is going to be huge for us, and the things happening at UMOCA are great as well to bring SLC to the national map in the art world. I think the U is at somewhat of a disadvantage being up on the hill, somewhat isolated from the rest of the city. Great things happen up there all the time, from artist talks at the UMFA to great student shows in the schools gallery. The professors there are amazing, as well. They are internationally recognized and active in their practice, yet I think a lot of the Utah art scene barely recognizes that. Maybe it is because they aren’t making work about Utah, which is what it seems most galleries here want. Sorry if that sounds jaded, but it seems like every other show that pops up is in that vein.
Gavin: For your artwork, what's the process like when creating a new piece, from the concept to final product?
Andrew: I have a general idea of what I want a piece to have and I have an idea in my mind what it should look like as a final piece. It never turns out like that. That is my favorite part about creating anything, I think. That is why I like printmaking, and etching, especially. You can do all the tests and have all the experience in the world and you will pull your plate out of the acid and something you didn’t expect will have happened. So, reacting to the piece as it develops is something I really look forward to.
Gavin: Do you play around with your creations a lot or do you try to stick with the initial idea?
Andrew: I play around a lot in the sketch book and in preliminary drawings, but once I start a piece, I am pretty much set on the idea. It is the variables within that idea that end up changing as I progress a piece.
Gavin: You also work in patterned works and installation pieces. What made you choose to dabble in so many different genres rather than just focus on one and master it?
Andrew: I don’t really think I am dabbling in so many different genres. I use whatever methods for the piece I am working on that are necessary. The installation pieces arise when I know I have a specific space or show to create something for. I really like reacting to the space and building a piece specifically for that space. I often use imagery I have already created in my prints for the installations so they work in tandem with each other. Plus, I don’t have a big commercial presence and no gallery representation so I don’t have to fall into one category if I don’t want to. Also, if I ever "master" a technique, what fun will it be to keep working in that if I have nothing left to learn?
Gavin: How was it for you essentially starting over in a new art scene and branching into exhibition with artists and galleries who didn't know your prior work?
Andrew: I think that is the most refreshing thing for both the artists and the galleries, especially in a smaller scene like ours. There are no reputations at that point and you can use that naiveté to your advantage. Now that I am in a position to maybe showing in some galleries, I am looking forward to applying that same model in other gallery scenes where my work might be received well.
Gavin: Are there other forms of artwork you want to experiment in, or are you focused on the ones you work with now?
Andrew: I have been working with oil sticks lately and in a lot looser manner on a large scale to create some of the disillusioned environments I have been using in my prints. The oil sticks are like drawing with paint, if that makes sense, haha. I really have enjoyed working in a new medium and I look forward to developing that and seeing where it can maybe lead. I did some video work a couple of years ago that I really liked and I would like to get back in to some of that. I don’t want to make an etching strictly because I am a printmaker who happens to be proficient at etching. I want to make an etching because the aesthetic of the etching matches best with my idea for the piece.
Gavin: Looking at local material, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?
Andrew: We definitely have some really great artists here. I don’t think you would know that going to the galleries, though. I have seen too many shows since I have been here that are based around being a Utahn and what that means. This is a great place, but as an outsider, these pieces and shows don’t do anything for me. There is an ever-increasing population of Utah transplants, and so much work that is made here is a reaction to larger issues and I don’t feel like we always see that in the galleries. If we want to be taken seriously as an art scene, there has to be more appeal to a larger audience in the shows that are put on. I think the vibrancy in the local scene is in the studios and in the new spaces opening up. I am excited to see what develops and how we will grow.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Andrew: Plead with Gagosian to open a gallery here?
Gavin: Who are some local artists you like checking out or recommend people should look for?
Andrew: Everyone! Hahaha. I think my studio mate Nic Annete-Miller is making some good work that is a reaction to the mountain culture we have here. Speaking of studio mates, I used to share a space with Brad Greenwell for a while and I think his paintings are great. They have this great neo-pop-art quality filled with irony. Aside from being a stand-up dude, Jared Steffensen makes some of the most relevant work around right now, in my opinion. I could name drop all day but I think going to the studios and even walking the streets you will see local artists who will blow your mind. If we could get a media tour of that scene, SLC would be on the map, for sure. I would say the one thing I love the most, is seeing one of my former students, Ryan’s wheat-pasted political posters, around the city. That kid gets it. Amazing work. His draftsmanship is untouched and his subjects are more poignant than a South Park episode.
Gavin: What's your take on Gallery Stroll and the work they're doing to promote local art?
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Andrew: I’m going to keep working in my studio regardless if I have specific shows or not. This is the start of the new year and I have a really good feeling about it. I don’t have anything lined up and that is fine with me. I have been toying with the idea of getting a screenprint setup going in my studio, so we will see if that becomes a reality. If so, that could open a whole new set of doors within my practice. For now, I will keep working with the oil sticks and on some woodcuts I have in mind.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Andrew: Yes! Stefanie Dykes, and Sandy and Erik Bunvand at SaltGrass Printmakers are the shit. They have been the best friends, teachers, colleagues, collaborators and friends I could ask for. They have been very active in the Sugar House Art Walks on the second Friday of the month. And I know Stef is there on Saturdays. so please, go check it out and take a class and get acquainted with how awesome printmaking is. Go eat at Zest and then come let me make you a drink at the bar. We have a great ginger/fireball cocktail that will keep you warm during the cold winter.
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