Interview: Travis Rice

Tell us a bit about your background as an artist. Your paintings feature highly architectural forms. Do you have any formal training in this area? Tell us a bit about your journey finding your voice as an artist. 

My undergrad degree is in Landscape Architecture from Ball State University in Muncie, IN. So, yes, the experience of studying design has had a definitive impact on my approach as an artist. I have worked as a designer in various architectural offices over the years and have even taught design at Iowa State University in their landscape architecture department. As a designer, I have always interwoven my interest in art into my work, and thus it would only make sense that my experience in the world of architecture would influence what I do as an artist.

Your paintings have such a refined aesthetic, with structures that have incredible crisp, flawless lines that almost appear digitally formed. Do you ever use digital tools when creating your work?

Yes. Most of my work is initially digitally conceived. This process has been adopted from my experience in design, as we often incorporate digital tools to study space. They allow me the flexibility to study many different forms and lighting before committing to canvas or paper. I feel their use, as well as the impact they have on the aesthetic of the work, speaks to our current tech obsessed culture.

Working in drawing, painting, and installation, you use an eclectic range of materials including resin, spray paint, and glitter, along with more traditional mediums like charcoal and oils. How did you come to use such a wide range of materials? Has experimenting with a new material ever led to a breakthrough moment or ended in disastrous results?

I have always been interested in finding ways to create the illusion of space in my work and that has led to an exploration of materials that would help create polar effects or what ab/ex painter Hans Hoffman called push and pull. He discovered that layering opaque paint over a transparent wash, or a matte surface against a glossy one, causes forms to begin to float and suspend within the composition. I am always experimenting with materials and occasionally get some unwanted results, but generally I have a pretty distinct plan for each piece I create. Working in traditional media, like charcoal on paper, is a nice contrast to the more decadent mixed media pieces, and it is that contrast that makes them important to me.

You currently live in Phoenix, Arizona. What is it about the Southwest landscape that connects with you as an artist and influences your work?

Having grown up in the Midwest, I am used to seeing miles of uninterrupted agriculture that feels like woven tapestry, as one plant monoculture marries itself up against another, but in the Southwest the broad washes of brown desert are often interrupted by these incredible rock forms that seem to defy gravity and logic. They are anomalies that contrast the flow of topography in the same way a piece of architecture imposed on the landscape does. Their size and the varied aggregates that wedge together to create their textured surfaces simply cannot be ignored and, in my case, eventually have become inspiration for some of the forms I have conceived. Plus, the overwhelming amount of brown that defines the desert makes the vivid colours of desert plants absolutely glow in contrast, thus affecting and inspiring some of my colour choices. 

The structures in your work often appear to deteriorate, breaking down the geometric motifs into smaller pixel-like particles. Does this reflect your viewpoint on digital culture? How does today’s world of infinitely growing technology affect your artwork?

Having the work break down into pixel-like particles speaks to my process of using digital means and reveals my interest in frozen phenomena or suspended movement. I just find things that are in a frozen state of flux to be interesting and less predictable, and the computer allows me to simulate this. I have struggled with how to talk specifically about the use of the computer in my work, as it serves the purpose of purely being just another tool, and I am not sure what it is actually saying about the work. I think, because of my background in design, I am just more open to finding tools that aid me in creating my work, as the mentality in design is to always be searching for ways to do things more efficiently and in a more cost-effective way. The computer also provides the ability to create forms that could never have been conceived through purely analogue means. It is also important to me that anything I create digitally be translated through analogue means in order to visually witness the human hand. I suppose the work connects to our current culture through the use of digital tools, but my use of these tools does not have any of the social relevance that is so often associated with the tech devices most often used in society today.  

You have recently been creating cardboard sculptures that mirror the structures in your paintings. What inspired you to bring these polygonal forms into a three-dimensional space?

I actually kind of fought the idea of building three dimensional forms, as I feel the 2D work is substantial enough to stand on its own, but my background in design probably sparked my curiosity to explore the third dimension. The first one I built was essentially a product of playing with material, but I liked what I was coming up with and kept exploring. The simple materials are important to me, as I like the idea of elevating basic utilitarian materials to the status of art object. I’m not sure where these pieces will eventually go but am anxious to see them evolve.

If you could ask any painter from history one question, who would it be and what would you ask him/her?

Jeff Koons… Can I borrow some money?