The artwork is vivid but stands starkly apart from the real world around it. The paintings include brightly colored geometric designs, an almost startling acrylic self-portrait in shades of green, and lonely images of faceless people, dangling phone receivers and disconnected pipes.
The artist behind the work was no less aloof.
Joe Rice, a classically trained artist, moved to a modest home near Sonoma Plaza with his second wife in 1985, after retiring from a long career as an art teacher in San Francisco public schools, and continued his lifelong regimen of painting every day.
After his death in 2011 at 92, Rice’s three grown daughters from his first marriage found a trove of hundreds of paintings in their father’s attic. None of them had ever been shown in public.
One of his daughters, Dorothy Rice, who lives near Sacramento, hopes to change that with her new book, “The Reluctant Artist,” illustrated with nearly 140 full-color images of his artwork, due out this fall.
“That was the enigma with my father. He had no acclaim whatsoever, nor did he seek it. To my knowledge, he never tried to show his work,” she said.
In an earlier article for an arts journal, Rice tried to trace the roots of her father’s aversion to public exhibit.
“Father bragged he’d never shown his work publicly, not after two paintings were stolen from an exhibit at the San Francisco Art Institute back in the early ‘60s. It almost seemed a point of pride not to share,” she wrote.
Even at home with his first wife and their daughters, first in San Francisco and later Mill Valley, Rice was beyond reach, disappearing after work into the basement to paint and tinker, reappearing for dinner, then descending again to his gloomy studio until after his daughters had gone to bed.
“It was actually my father’s getting ill and eventually dying that woke up me to the fact that I’d always wanted to be a writer my whole life,” said Rice, 61. She retired five years ago from a 30-year career as an administrator with the California Environmental Protection Agency.
“He was not a communicative man. I always thought he expressed himself through art, so I always admired his art, and in his final years I started talking to him about it. The inspiration was trying to understand my father.”
After his death, Dorothy knew which painting she wanted for herself.
“I love the green self-portrait most of all, as it reminds me of the father of my youth — aloof, stern, yet always interesting, intriguing,” she said.
Joe Rice learned early in life to keep his mouth shut. An immigrant of Hungarian and Chinese descent, he grew up in the Philippines and came to San Francisco in 1930.
He graduated from UC Berkeley and went on to earn a master of fine arts from the California College of Arts and Crafts, becoming a skilled artist. But never gave up his reserved manner.
“He used to tell me that humility was the highest virtue. He said he was simply a student, a student of the arts,” his daughter recalled.
But even though the man was humble, his artwork was striking. Well educated in art, Rice admired the work of Magritte, Mondrian, Diego Rivera and El Greco, and he experimented in a variety of styles.