Cecil Rice

Words by Jenni Davidson

His watercolours may be all soft light and romantic views, but Hove artist Cecil Rice has an altogether more down to earth view of art, which he says is mainly about good technique and quality of materials.

According to Rice good and bad art is an illusion. What isn’t an illusion, though, are all the possible mistakes, and the main thing is not to make any gaffs in the technique.

“You just have to learn not make mistakes, then you’ve got art,” he says.

He recommends that anyone who’s interested in painting should invest in really good paint for “the quality of the pigment and the sheer pleasure of spreading the colour out,” something he discovered at the age of 13, when his father gave him his first set of paints.

Rice decided that he wanted to be a painter at a young age.

“I have to say, and it may sound unlikely, but I was about 14 when I really fell for it and between that time and my O level, that’s when I worked out that’s what I wanted to do,” he says.

“I got into it quite thoroughly and did a lot of practice.”

My father was a painter and a sculptor and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. He was constantly interested in art. That formed the basis of our communication really.”

He was a hard act to follow because his drawing was amazingly good, but that made me work harder.”

Cecil Rice is best known for his watercolours and the choice of watercolour over oil as his primary medium was a practical one because oils take much longer to paint, so he would have to charge much more for them. There is also a greater chance of them the not working out.

“Watercolour is a bit less of a risk,” he says. “Also British people seem to love watercolour.”

“An oil painting takes a few weeks to mature. I’ve lost one or two. They’ve looked okay to other people, but I haven’t been happy with them.”


With watercolour he is able to prevent things going too badly wrong.

“I know how to dance round the painting stopping things happening. There has to be a sort of knife edge of control. It’s a bit like jazz. You want a certain freeform. I feel I can take quite profound liberties with watercolour and pull off paintings that look as if they were intended.”

He paints small watercolours and oils out of doors, while the larger ones are produced in the studio.

“I like doing paintings outdoors, it’s animating; you can put the passage of time into the sun moving,” says Rice. “Trying to work from a photo, it’s poisonous. You get detail you didn’t ask for. There’s quite a bit of freewheeling. I often just follow my feeling and that seems to project a mood into the painting.”

He is, though, he says, “quite a sucker for a bit of architectural complication to balance all the vague stuff.”

As well as buildings, sunsets and water often feature in Cecil Rice’s work, and he finds painting the way the buildings are subsumed into colour at sunset more satisfying than worrying about whether they are topographically correct.

“That’s why water’s good,” he adds. “Everything dissolves into water.”

Italy is the location of many of Cecil Rice’s paintings and Venice is one of his favourite places.

He also paints many scenes in Brighton. Here he consciously picks colours that reflect the feel of England. While in Venice yellows are daffodil or sunset yellow, in Brighton they are primrose.

“I’m very conscious of the palette reflecting a much cooler experience,” he says. “If the paintings work they’ll have quite a bracing effect that anyone who’s lived in England should be aware of. My Italian paintings are more languid.

“I revel in the muted colour when painting here, especially the Thames or Westminster. You make much more of the tone.”

The finished plays of light seem anything but muted, and certainly have much more to them than just good technique.