Artist Kevin Bice says art not just for ‘elite’

Kevin Bice always knew he was going to be an artist.

“I had been so immersed in art that it seemed a foregone conclusion that I would end up in the arts somehow.  That I ended up as a teacher was surprising given my natural shyness,” says the 72-year-old London born and raised artist and former teacher.

Kevin’s father, Dr. Clare Bice, was a nationally well-known artist, illustrator and writer of children’s books and art gallery director.  In 1940 he was appointed at the first curator of the new London Art Gallery, a post he held for over 30 years.

Kevin says he was constantly surrounded by the arts in various forms, including some very well known artists like A.Y. Jackson, who were always around for gatherings or dinners. 

“I grew up regarding a career and a life in the arts as a natural, almost ordinary outcome rather than the ‘elite’ activity that some see it as,” says Kevin.

As a student at London Central Secondary School, Kevin was busy with school shows, the yearbook and student newspapers – in all cases, as an artist or designer.  He says it was a good personal experience since “I was painfully shy as a kid and theatre allowed me to connect with others and to express myself publicly.” 

When Kevin arrived at Western University as an English major, he got involved in the Gilbert and Sullivan Society. 

“I didn’t see myself on stage, so I designed the poster and worked on publicity.  However, over the next three years, I did end up on stage in the chorus and then backstage as the producer of two shows,” Kevin recalls.

Kevin’s high school art teaching career began in Sault Ste. Marie where he was asked to initiate an art department in his fiancé’s school when her principal learned he had a second teachable in visual art.

“This was all the more extraordinary since I had one university art course under my belt when I left Western, but I had never taken art in high school,” jokes Kevin. “When I returned to London in 1976, I was asked if I would start an art program at my old high school, London Central S.S.”

Kevin taught art at five London high schools including Montcalm, Central, Lucas, Saunders and Oakridge.  He says that teaching art, especially from no real formal background in art education, was extremely important to his career as an artist.

“Struggling to find ways of drawing the creative spirit out of students helped me to find my own directions. I was also heavily involved in theatre and performance at all the schools I taught in. I am particularly proud of the large original school shows that I produced and helped write at Montcalm and of the Arts Festivals I organized at Lucas and Central,” says Kevin.

Kevin describes his artistic style as “whatever comes out.”

“My work is mostly representational.  I have been strongly influenced first and foremost by my father,” Kevin says.  “Other influences are the European Impressionist painters, the Group of Seven and other Canadian “plein air” painters like William Blair Bruce, Bonnard for colour and subject matter, Andrew Wyeth for composition, Rauschenburg for experiment and subject, Henri Matisse, Edward Steichen and Henri Cartier Bresson photographers, Winslow Homer and especially John Singer Sargent.”

“When I paint outdoors, I first look for a comfortable place to be.  After that, I get immersed in the play of light on the subject for about two hours of very concentrated time,” says Kevin.  “In the studio, the process involves a lot of ‘fiddling around’.  I spend a lot of time just wandering through my large collection of art books.  I have a number of ‘idea books’ where I keep idea fragments, tiny sketches, clippings – anything that can stimulate an idea for a work. Once I begin a larger studio work, I try to have two or sometimes three works on the go at the same time.  I also try never to finish a work without having something else in progress.  Beginning, at the start of the day, with a blank canvas is really difficult.”

One of the collaborations he is most proud of is the 2008 The River Project. 

“I was one of 19 artists who wanted to create a book and an exhibition that would encourage London citizens and others from out-of-town to look at and celebrate the Thames within the boundaries of the city.  Accordingly, after a year or so of sketching, painting and meeting, we published a book which was entirely paid for by grants and donations.  That allowed us to print 2600 copies of the book which we then gave free to a number of non-profit local groups to use as a fund-raiser.”

Kevin also co-founded the annual London Artists’ Studio Tour with Lorraine Roy 26 years ago.  The tour brings thousands of people, some who might not normally go to art shows, into artists’ homes and studios.  Over 220 London artists have been involved in the tour.

These days, Kevin and his wife Daphne do a great deal of travelling and he uses at least part of each trip for sketching and gathering painting ideas.  He has been asked to be the tour leader on a guided South African art tour.  He is also occasionally asked to do workshops and talks on the artistic process.

“I have two fundamental beliefs: That the arts are vital to the health of an individual and a community, and that creativity is part of the definition of being human,” says Kevin.  “The Creative Spirit is not confined to an elite group. Art is not a frill.”

To be sure, London is blessed to have creative individuals like Kevin Bice.

Rick Young, July 2019

This article appears in the July/August issue of Aging Well Celebrating The Young At Heart magazine.

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