Brice Wood, Learning about an artist.
I pull up in front of the Jerome Tee Shirts store across from the Post office, I’m here to do some mining. Not so much copper for which the town was built but gold. I call from my old style cell phone to announce my arrival. “Good Morning, it’s Tony. I’m a little early. Yes, that’s fine.” I’m told I’ll be collected in a few minutes. I should have said something like ‘I’m wearing a white carnation or my car’s silver.’ So “Guy Noir”.
Shortly, a white pickup truck pulls up, “I’m going to get my mail since I’m here. Just a minute” My host returns, I’m to follow him to his studio. Yes, I needed a guide. Jerome is, well, not laid out like places I know. It’s best I get some help. We return the way I came in, until almost at the edge of town we duck down a steep rough side road. It winds about the mountain until we arrive in front of a modest but well-kept home. There’s a rough looking guy outside with a pair of metal work shears. I try not to block his work space as I park. Not an easy task; steep, narrow road with a washboard finish, me driving a too big SUV, and locals looking on with knowing skepticism in their hearts. “We’re putting on a new metal roof. First one since I built the house in 1989.” We appraise the work being done as if I knew anything about standing seams, Jerome weather and standard colors for metal roofs. “Come on in, I’ll show you around.”
The mining begins. I’m visiting with Brice Wood, painter, sculptor, entrepreneur, raconteur and longtime resident of Jerome who designed and built his house in rough and tumble Jerome before it was gentrified and tourist friendly.
Born Richard Brice Wood in 1940, in Cleveland, Ohio he’s a few years older than me but not many. We share an era in some respects but not, as he refers to it, “trajectory”. His father was a professional musician, his mother, a ceramist and teacher. Early years seemed unimportant for the conversation, the story starts in 1958. He is seventeen and enrolls at Cooper Union which at that time is a center of abstract expressionism. All the teachers are required to be working artists, not academics. The culture, although laissez faire, was intense. The art history created at Cooper Union included the likes of Hoffman and Krasner, Eva Hesse, Tom Wesselman. Brice learned his craft by painting and then painting some more. “I did these while I was at Cooper. It was a little overwhelming at times and I didn’t stay long, just a year.” The work still looks fresh and full of action. It looks a lot more confident than the work of an eighteen year old.
By now we’re in the main part of the house. Very open, white, clean. The Verde Valley fills half the back wall. The house is full of his work, not chock-a-block, messy full; collector intense full and well displayed. Oil paintings, acrylic, collages and etchings. On top of a dividing wall are folding screens with mono-type and photographic images printed on them. Here and there are small constructions, his reliquary series, small stages for life plays asking for the viewer to populate them with actors.
From 1960 to 1963 Brice attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston. This school was at the opposite end of the artistic spectrum from Cooper Union. Whereas Cooper Union was the Avant Garde, the Museum School was almost like the French Academy: there was life drawing every day, thorough grounding in the history of technique, and many hours spent copying paintings in the museum’s collection. He says it drove him crazy, but the technique and foundation has stayed with him. He says he has little work saved from that period, a period of classical copy and repetition.
We sit down in the small media room on a comfortable couch as he continues his trajectory.
During the war years he joined the reserves and applied his craft to illustration and promotional work. As with most artists, the day-to-day earning a living had little to do with his passion but the work developed in spite of the interruptions. As in earlier years he did carpentry, house painting and worked backstage at small theaters doing set design and lighting. The grit of life performed its duty in building up experience and wearing down an artist’s too high expectations.
Wood moved to Los Angeles and got involved in animation doing commercial and educational work. During the early 70’s he did graphic and product design, was commissioned for architectural work at several restaurants and offices and applied his hand at some residential mural work. All the while producing landscapes and portraits. Brice and author/educator Carol Yacht were married in 1979. They raised their children, Matthew and Jessica in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles while Carol taught in Beverly Hills. During the early 80’s Brice taught life drawing classes and took up intaglio printing. The time spent at the Boston Museum School serves his work well. Several times he mentions the foundation skills, it’s evident in the work. The ability to draw is a primary requisite he believes and he’s put it to obvious advantage.
In the late 80’s Brice and Carol sold their home in California and moved to Arizona, to Jerome, where they built the house and studio I’m visiting. Here Brice joined with others in starting up the Jerome Artists’ CO-OP. Here he paints and constructs and deconstructs and re-reconstructs his art. He is an abstractionist, a person of imagination and exploration. And, as they say, all the above was prolog.
Life makes an artist. Some are made quickly and burn brightly. Others, like Brice, are mixed with the grit and gravel of a full life. One that is sometimes messy and sometimes meandering but always threaded with the art. Brice will tell you he has done a lot of non-art jobs, things done just to survive, things thought menial and perhaps culturally inept. But all have been accreted into an approach to life that demands that art be included and central.
Brice has shown me almost all of the house he built when I notice a shelf with some old paper in frames. One is a musical score written by his father for a competition. A penciled note is attached to it, “Congratulations, Edgar”. It’s signed George Gershwin. I shouldn’t have been surprised.
I’m fortunate to have Brice Wood showing at my gallery in October. Please come in and see the gold he has created.
A Small Art Gallery, 115 E Goodwin #D, Prescott, AZ 86303 next to City Hall, www.asmallartgallery.com, 928-830-3220, Thurs 1-5, Fri-Sat 10-5. Artist’s reception October 25, 5-8pm.