Visual Arts

Native Ryan Rice opens his new studio-gallery this Friday

You can find art all over town -- not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

For a first on this First Friday, pop (pun intended) into Ryan Rice's brand-new gallery, R2, at 4424 Tennyson Street, which will host an opening reception that starts at 6 p.m. March 7 and features a new piece from Rice's pop-culture series.

See also: Natalia Musalem finds the right texture with watercolors and charcoal

R2, just a block from the artist's previous studio, will be half-studio, half-gallery. Which is a fun setup, because once the gallery officially opens, you can drop by and see the artist in his natural habitat. Rice assures us he'll be happy to show patrons around and chat with them while he continues working. "A lot of the artists I know are more introverted," says Rice. "But I really enjoy talking with people." The pop culturist is a full-time artist who, for as long as he can remember, has always been into art. "I used to save up my allowance money for books on drawing and stuff like that," Rice recalls. It wasn't until college that he got into painting, when he had to take electives to qualify for the degree he earned at Metropolitan State University of Denver. "I was always intimidated by painting," says Rice. "I correlate it to how I learned to ski when I was five years old, and then snowboarding was intimidating." Rice, a fourth-generation Colorado native on both sides, initially enrolled at Metro State because he wanted to be an art teacher. But he quickly discovered teaching wasn't for him, and he ultimately graduated with a bachelor's in fine arts. At first, painting was mostly a post-collegiate hobby. Rice went straight into sales and, back when the market was really good, started doing mural and faux painting on the side, mostly on weekends, as something that appealed to his artistic side. "It got to the point where I was so busy doing murals that my wife encouraged me to go into it full-time," Rice explains. And then Rice's daughter entered the scene. "We wanted one of us to stay home," says Rice. Since the missus had a more consistent job, Rice decided he'd be with their daughter during the day and then go out in the evenings to paint. The arrangement worked well, but friends and family were always telling Rice he should get his art out to the public. So finally, around 2006, a reluctant Rice entered three pieces in the Denver Modernism Show -- all of which were accepted. Thus began Rice's transition into more formalized art exhibition. Rice specializes in pun paintings, in case you couldn't tell. They're an interactive and lighthearted form that challenges viewers to discern visual cues while processing the art before them. "In college," says Rice, "I was really into literature, reading, writing, and poetry -- It gave me something to paint." For his pun pieces, Rice starts with sketches, usually about a half dozen for each painting, and then "works and twist from there." Once sketches are complete, Rice uses oil on canvas to bring his work to completion. Much of the time, he stretches his own canvas with a miter saw, which "isn't rocket science," he says, lauding it for its cost-effectiveness. Rice tries not to use too many letters and numbers in the paintings themselves, but when the movie Pi came out, he got caught up with the symbol and its double entendre nature. And while Rice notes that he wants each of his pun pieces to be able to stand alone, there's no denying the puns make art viewing fun. Sometimes, Rice even puts out plain green cards that viewers have to flip up in order to see the title of a piece. "A lot of people like to walk around and try to guess the pieces," Rice says. Lately, though, Rice has been breaking away from puns. "I want to get more into the pop-culture stuff," he says. "I've been flying by the seat of my pants with things like the Samuel L Jackson piece." This commentary showcases the actor eating his infamous royal with cheese, a reference nearly any Pulp Fiction fan can appreciate. One more reason to stop by his new studio/gallery: Friday will be the last day the artist will be offering his pieces at 50 percent off. For more information, visit Rice's website, check out his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter.

Follow Jamie Siebrase on Twitter.