Patricia Rice always loved art, and grew up drawing her family. Her art education began more as guided exercises than formal instruction, she said, and drawing came fairly intuitively. However, when she started her first oil painting class as an adult, she was staggered by the difficulty of that medium.
“There was a lot about it that I just didn’t understand, and I painted about six years of bad to mediocre portraits before it finally clicked. You have to be willing to paint bad paintings before you eventually paint good paintings,” she said.
Rice studied portraiture extensively, first under Daniel Green, a well-known artist and former instructor at the National Academy of Design in New York, over a period of three summers, which “really cracked the door on how to paint from life, how to get a likeness, old masters, color combinations, and seeing warm and cool tones in the skin,” she said. Then, she studied with Robert Liberace, an artist based in the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Va., to learn more about the old masters and anatomy.
“Anatomy always fascinated me, and it really opened the door to (getting) much better likenesses into very realistic paintings, because I began to combine … those two things.”
Rice said she enjoys the return-to-the-classics movement that is happening in the art world, using the techniques of old masters and natural pigment blends.
“There’s a quote,” she said, “(From) Peter Paul Rubens: ‘In order to obtain the highest perfection in painting, it is necessary to understand the antique; nay, to be so thoroughly possessed of this knowledge that it may diffuse itself everywhere.’ And so to study the antique or the old masters really does make a difference, at least for me and my paintings.”
Just as she wrapped up her studies with Liberace and landed a studio at The Workhouse Arts Center, four of her children joined the military, following in the footsteps of their two older siblings, who were already serving. Rice became intrigued with painting her children and their fellow servicemembers and began a new path in her career as a military portrait artist. Their experiences became a large part of her consciousness as an artist, she explained, enabling her to see different aspects of military life.
Rice painted personal portraits from combat photographs, as well as an official portrait of now-retired Gen. William E. “Kip” Ward, the first commander of U.S. Africa Command. She likes to get to know each of her portrait subjects in order to help tell a story with the painting, giving the viewer insight into who they are. “That’s just part of what I think I bring to the table as an artist, rather than just an academic exercise of recording something.”
She believes her studies of classical portraiture and anatomy also help to bring a distinct life to her paintings.
“There is a life to a portrait because of the layers of pigment suspended in oil. There is a three dimensionality to a painting that there isn’t even in the best photographs,” she said.
It is the intangible aspects of the painting that help make it unique — better, Rice explained. She hopes that through conveying these aspects in her military portraits, she is better able to tell the Soldier’s story.