Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Your soul is a sunflower
that has grown to such a height,
you can no longer contain it.
As it bursts forth, your sun seeds fall
back into the hearts of loved ones,
to be cherished and tended with care.
A very dear friend died last Saturday. His name is Robert Rice, and he was one of the finest men I’ve ever known. If the word gentleman had not already existed, it would have been invented to describe Robert.
He was enormously talented. He had danced with the Merce Cunningham dance company, and kept dance as a vibrant part of his life. He was an accomplished painter whose work was always rigorous and beautiful. Perhaps his greatest talent, though, was as a teacher. The classroom was an exciting place for Robert. It was a magical blending of energies creating a transformation environment.
It was his courage that made him so good at everything he did. At one point he was having considerable success selling beautiful paintings, but he knew that he had taken his technique as far as he could. It wasn’t teaching him anymore, and he wasn’t excited about the prospect of the next piece. So, he just stopped. “Well, I’m not working like that anymore,” he said to me one day. “I’m going to go in a whole new direction.” And in order to do that, he made a new level of commitment to his work: he rented a little cabin with none of the amenities (electricity, for example), and he lived like a religious hermit for three years. After he’d been in his hermitage for about a year I saw him and he joyfully declared, “Oh, I’m making paintings that are so ugly! You have to see them! I’m really happy with the direction the work is taking.”
As teaching colleagues we met up in a meeting one day and he dropped into a chair beside me. “These people are so challenging,” he said. “I had my class prepared for this morning, and I started out directing them in a certain kind of movement, and they just didn’t want to do it. And I spent hours preparing that class.” I asked how he had handled the situation. “Well, I asked them what they wanted to do, and slowly they created the whole class. I followed their lead.” That ability to listen, receive, respect, and move with the creative energy of the moment is what made Robert such a terrific teacher, and an artist of life, itself.
As a friend, you could talk to him about anything. He was never judgmental, never overbearing. He was always tender, compassionate, and supportive. His spirit will live on in everyone who was lucky enough to know him and learn from him.
You can see his inevitably beautiful work on his website: www.robertriceart.com