XPLR (ex^plore) is a studio conceived by artist and illustrator David Rice. Visualising themes of urban and wild nature through the medium of paint, Rice creates what he describes as "environments that exist beyond the parameters of the physical world". His connection with the natural landscape and the inhabitants of Portland, Oregon are often his primary subject matter. Depicting owls wearing scarves or bikers riding with foxes in epic vistas, he captures the natural beauty of his surroundings. Alongside traditional painting techniques, Rice adds a graphic quality to his work using a bold contemporary palette in exquisite detail. Preferring to depict harmony between man and animal, city and the great outdoors, his work promotes those relationships in familiar yet hopeful ways. Drawn to his style, skill and subject matter, we decided to find out more about Rice's practice.
CZ: Tell us about your hometown, and it's influence on you.
DR: My hometown of Portland, Oregon has undoubtedly influenced the tone of my work. Portland is a bustling town full of creators and entrepreneurs and is nestled between pristine forests, rivers and mountains. This combination of urban and natural environments has given me a lot of inspiration. My work combines subjects that wouldn't normally interact together. Portland tries to soften the boundaries between city and nature, and I feel my paintings have a similar sentiment.
CZ: How do you go about starting a piece of work?
DR: A single painting usually takes about ten days. I start with a sketch that I typically work out digitally from reference photos. I try and use my own shots as often as possible, but if I need to pull a reference from elsewhere, I usually pick around three photos and combine them to create my own unique image. Once I have the composition and sketch exactly how I want it, I then transfer the sketch to a panel or canvas. I build all my own panels and frames so my pieces can be any dimensions I choose. I then start painting, usually back to front, finishing with the subjects in the foreground. I use Acrylic paint that allows the layering process.
CZ: You depict nature, animals and the human world in harmony. What are you trying to say?
DR: My goal is to create environments that exist beyond the parameters of our physical world. My style blurs the boundaries between what should and shouldn't exist together by bringing subjects into surroundings that they wouldn't normally interact with. These scenes are often combined with graphic colour and patterns in an effort to provide harmony and balance to the opposing forces.
CZ: So where did you gain your artistic skills?
DR: I am mostly self-taught. I did get my degree in studio art, but the emphasis was on drawing and digital art. I did not have any formal training in painting until in 2013 I met artist Blaine Fontana. I began a rigorous internship with him, and the experience gave me a huge insight into the professional art world.
Working with Fontana, I was thrown right into the fire. There were several big projects that required a lot of painting. He is an extremely versatile artist, so I was able to learn a ton from him. He showed me some of the basics and then set me loose. With each painting, I would try a new technique or a new subject to help me hone my skills.
CZ: Do you work on many commercial projects?
DR: Most of my commercial projects have been interior murals. I have had the chance to work with some really cool brands such as Patagonia, Wacom and WeWork.
CZ: What is your most epic project to date?
DR: In 2016 I painted a huge mural in Seattle in collaboration with artist Ola Volo. The 25ft x 170ft wall was for a project called The SODO Track. It is the largest mural I have ever painted, and we only had six days to do it, which was exhausting but a lot of fun!