Roger Rice’s soul hangs on the walls of McInnis.
Disturbing drawings of prison life, frightening renderings of familiar Bible stories and demonic portrayals of death are all part of the work of the artist, ordained fundamentalist minister and prison inmate. His work is the third in a series of displays from the Robert Cargo Folk Art Gallery in Paoli.
It is also, in a way, a reflection of his inner life.
“The word I always use when I look at his oil paintings is that he’s a tortured soul,” Caroline Cargo, the gallery’s director, said. “There’s a real emotional and spiritual connection in the work he’s doing.”
The display reflects the two mediums in which Rice has worked: oil on canvas that he did before his 1994 incarceration for statutory rape and the prison-regulated 11″ x14″ colored pencil drawings that he has made since.
Rice’s work was originally promoted by Cargo’s father in the 80’s. Now, despite his life sentence, and her own mixed feelings on that conviction, Cargo still supports his art.
“I like the power in them, even though it is dark power,” she said. “His best work is coming from a deep place in his spirit.”
The series of displays, of which Rice’s is the last, featured a mix of the gallery’s artists and most recently the work of the Rev. Benjamin Perkins. The series was instigated last summer by interim dean of arts and sciences Betsy Morgan.
“I find this guy’s work disturbing and winsome at the same time,” she said. “This man believes in evil. He believes in the midst of all of this there is a foundation.”
First-year Tommy McGragy noticed this dichotomy as well, particularly in the 1992 oil painting “In the Lion’s Den.”
“I like the way he showed how the lion is eating something human, and in the background, he’s playing with the lions,” he said.
Rice himself has embodied the contradiction found in his work. Although already an ordained minister, he went on to earn a Ph.D in Biblical theology from Gulf Coast Bible Institute Seminary while in prison, according to Cargo.
Besides depictions of prison life and illustrations of Bible stories, other topics Rice has engaged, especially in prison, have been news events he has heard about, and his desire to come back into community, according to Cargo.
Rice’s work has struck a chord among some Eastern students.
“I like these better than the ones before, because they are so dark,” sophomore Jenn Timmel said. “You could spend hours looking at them, because there’s so much woven into them.”
What is woven into them, is ultimately, Rice himself.
“He is using art as a way of having a voice,” Cargo said.