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Brian Rice was at the heart of the London art scene during the 1960s. He moved in the same circles as Peter Blake, David Hockney and Joe Tilson, and worked at the forefront of British Modernism.

But he became disillusioned with London life and in the 1970s returned to his native West Country. There he bought the 50-acre Nallers Farm in Dorset, immersing himself in the work of sheep farming, restoring the ancient farmhouse and creating a studio space. His only contact with other artists was through teaching.

He returned to painting in the 1980s and by the early 1990s was developing a new visual language. He sought inspiration from the archaeological past and from the hill forts, enclosures and burial mounds in the landscapes around him. Soon he was renewing his reputation as one of Britain's most distinguished abstract artists.

Devon

Devon 1996

Brian Rice (b.1936)

Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery

Here are five of the highlights you'll find in the show.

Red Assembly

1964, screenprint by Brian Rice (b.1936)

Red Assembly

1964, screenprint by Brian Rice (b.1936)

Brian Rice worked in London at a time when the art world was being transformed. London emerged as a new global centre for making and selling art. Commercialisation increased, many more galleries opened and there was a boom in printmaking.

This screenprint was made for Brian Rice's 1964 exhibition at the New Vision Centre and was printed by Ward Studios of Yeovil. It was an immediate success and was acquired by the Tate Gallery for its collection.

Blue Black Sunrise

1967, acrylic on canvas by Brian Rice (b.1936)

Blue Black Sunrise

1967, acrylic on canvas by Brian Rice (b.1936)

1967's Blue Black Sunrise is reflective of Rice's lifelong interest in architecture, in this case, the Art Deco style. He explored the sunrise motif further with Tony Evans, a friend and renowned photographer.

Together they found representations of the sunrise depicted in objects such as doors, windows and gates, publishing the results in their best-selling book The English Sunrise (1972).

Mazefield

1995, vinyl print cut by Brian Rice (b.1936)

Mazefield

1995, vinyl print cut by Brian Rice (b.1936)

Rice's return to the West Country brought new artistic inspiration and a change of approach. In the 1990s Rice once more became interested in archaeology and its associated imagery.

He had by then moved to his present home at Hewood on the borders of Somerset, Devon and Dorset, where he studied the ways in which ancient people had shaped the landscape. Imagery at this time drew on field systems, hill forts, mounds and hut circles. Related imagery such as maps, excavation plans and aerial photographs also became important in his work.

Hallazan

2006, screenprint by Brian Rice (b.1936)

Hallazan

2006, screenprint by Brian Rice (b.1936)

In the new millennium, Rice experimented further with symbolic and representational shapes, including those found in prehistoric rock art. Triangles, concentric circles, spirals and zigzags recurred in his work.

A key motif, called Halla, first appeared in 2001, and depicts a simple square plan of a house with linked concentric circles, post holes and rafters. For the next five years he developed this motif in large canvases and smaller works. Hallazan was published by Artizan Editions in 2006.

Son of Covid

2020, acrylic on canvas by Brian Rice (b.1936)

Son of Covid

2020, acrylic on canvas by Brian Rice (b.1936)

Son of Covid is unique among Rice's works for its subject matter and its direct response to an unprecedented event. It references the COVID-19 pandemic as it was taking hold during March and April 2020.

The work was created in an environment without the pressures of any planned exhibitions. Instead, there was only 'endless uninterrupted time' that seemed to stretch out before him. Rice continues to work from his home studio in Dorset.

Sarah Cox, Exhibitions and Programme Manager at the South West Heritage Trust

'The Art of Brian Rice' has been created in collaboration with the artist himself and with the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter and is on display at the Museum of Somerset, Taunton, from 13th November 2021 to 26th February 2022