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The Reluctant Artist: Joe Rice 1918–2011

by Dorothy Rice

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Through images and text, The Reluctant Artist tells the story of Joe Rice, high school art teacher, inventive artist, father of four children, and self-proclaimed "overeducated pauper." Rice lived his life in and around San Francisco, raising his children during the sixties and seventies—"a magical place at a magical time"—with LSD, the music of Janis Joplin, and a VW Microbus on every corner. Rice's story is told by his daughter Dorothy Rice, who recounts tales of his lifelong commitment to art, his disquieting tendency toward solitude, his unease with useless conversation, and his self-effacing manner and adherence to humility as the highest virtue. Though he made art all through his life, Joe Rice never sought recognition or financial profit for any of it. Near the end of his life, his children became increasingly fascinated by and attached to his work, chronicling, photographing the art on his walls, and discovering a cache of paintings that had been stored in the garage rafters for over twenty years. Through his art they attempted to better understand their father's hidden truth: though he never sought to make a living from his art, art gave him his life. And having left so many tangible remnants he will live on in more than memory.

ART / Individual Artists / General

ISBN: 978-1-941830-14-7 (print; softcover; perfect bound)
ISBN: 978-1-941830-15-4 (digital)

LCCN: 2015952631

140 pages; 83 illustrations

Author Biography

Dorothy Rice, a San Francisco native, now lives in Sacramento, California. At 60, following a career in environmental protection, Dorothy earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from University of California, Riverside, Palm Desert. The Reluctant Artist: Joe Rice (1918 - 2011), is her first published book. She has published shorter narrative nonfiction and memoir in publications including Brain, Child Magazine, Brain Teen 2016, Literary Mama, the Rumpus, Proximity, the Tin House blog and the Brevity blog.

More of Joe Rice’s art may be seen at this website.


"Joe Rice might have been a reluctant artist, in the sense of one who works outside the public eye, but it's clear that making art was what he most wanted to be doing. His artwork provides intimate histories–the many self-portraits, the depictions of domestic spaces and acute observations of daily life. But–and like his own complicated family background–his work, with its use of hot color, non-perspectival space, and intricate patterning, also complexly alludes to histories of diaspora and internationalism, speaking to multiple sources from Mughal miniature paintings to Native American organizational forms. Rice’s intricate weaving of the intimate with the expansive, the familiar with the experimental–and he was always trying out new things–is what art does best, rewarding those who look closely. Who better to guide us to look more closely at a father who is an artist, than a daughter who is a writer?"
Allan deSouza, Chair, Department of Art Practice, University of California, Berkeley

"Dorothy Rice has not only written a memorial for her father, she's established herself as a different kind of artist in her own right: a gifted writer who, in eloquent and delicate prose, reveals the joys and costs of being an artist. Visual, emotional, and insightful, this book is a must read."
Emily Rapp Black, Author of Poster Child: A Memoir and New York Times bestseller The Still Point of the Turning World 

"Joe Rice tackled diverse modes of art making throughout his long career in the San Francisco Bay Area. The exquisite highs and lows of the practice were central to his life to the exclusion of any effort to find an audience for his work.  Such a curious and passionate man deserves our notice."
Jim Melchert, Professor of Art Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley

Articles & Reviews

Dorothy Rice, "Tianjin Daughter," Proximity. (A fascinating article about Rice's Chinese grandmother, providing a valuable lesson in social and family history, as well as background for her book.)

Dorothy Rice, "Finding the Form: From Fiction to Memoir," Brevity, February 16, 2016.


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