Rumour has it that Marco Polo introduced velvet painting to the West. Artist Leslie Rice was introduced to it seven hundred years later when his father returned to Sydney from a business trip in Tijuana with a velvet painting among his souvenirs. The quintessence of kitsch exotica, velvet painting to this day holds a guilt-ridden attraction. With his suite of virtuosic velvet paintings Rice has reclaimed this guilty pleasure and quickly earned himself a reputation as ’one to watch’. His accolades include inclusion in the Archibald Prize and two times winner of Doug Moran National Portrait Prize.
Rice has spent more than 15 years as an established tattoo artist (from a lineage of tattooists including his father and sister) and finds the transition to velvet to be strangely familiar. Like painting the body with a needle, painting velvet with a brush is exacting and unforgiving. Rice’s subjects side-step the usual preoccupation with sunsets and pin-up girls made popular mid last century in velvet painting’s halcyon days. Instead dramatic, Mannerist tableaux including biblical and mythological references proliferate. These subjects find their source in Rice’s immediate world where friends and families close at hand are transposed into dramatis personae.
Making paintings with their longevity in mind, Rice now secures each work under glass, often choosing to pigment the glass lending the works a holographic quality where the beholder is invited into the picture.