It’s Monday morning and artist Michael-Birch Pierce is recovering from a busy weekend - hosting an auction at Diversity Richmond’s Iridian Gallery, participating in 1708’s Monster Drawing Rally and an event at Quirk Gallery, decorating a mansion on Monument Avenue for a house tour, not to mention having his artwork featured in an exhibition opening in Atlanta.
In the art world, Michael is known for his embellishment work. He’s also a professor at his alma mater Virginia Commonwealth University. “I think the sparkles all come from a childhood obsession with David Bowie and the Spice Girls,” he says.
After receiving his masters from the Savannah College of Art & Design, he worked in Diane von Furstenberg’s embellishment department. Being so close to fashion inspired him to explore more embroidery techniques. “I think it comes from a lifetime of trying to repress using sparkles, sequins and gay things,” he jokes. “Then, I learned that I need to lean into this and make my work really gay.”
That sparkle and embroidery caught the attention of Quirk Gallery and Michael started working with the gallery to begin his signature performance work.
“I always say it’s a party trick, but I guess it’s more than that. I draw people’s portraits on my sewing machine without sketching it, without planning it within five minutes. It’s all about intimate connections within this technological world we live in,” he says. “The real art is the experience of watching it happen.”
While he started these embroideries at one of Richmond’s First Friday events, this “party trick” has become so well received that he’s been invited to Hugo Boss, Art Basel and South by South West.
But it's Richmond’s art scene that feels like home. “Richmond feels a little more real for me. There are so many amazing galleries. The community is really supportive and not competitive.”
So what’s on his RVA art itinerary?
- You absolutely have to go to the VMFA. That museum is phenomenal. The shows they are bringing in are killer.
- Just walking down Broad Street to look at the galleries -- there’s so much to see. You now have an Blue Bones Vintage, Ledbury, and Charm School. It’s a little grittier and feels like a real downtown experience.
- There’s Quirk Gallery which is my home base. I think Quirk is a good gallery to catch people’s interest with more than just art in a white box. They really serve a lot of different customers.
- 1708 Gallery has fantastic shows. They bring in a lot of provocative art because they are non-profit and can take risks without sacrificing sales with community events like InLight.
- Candela Gallery. It’s all photography and I like the very specific focus. People are used to going to galleries and seeing paintings on the wall, but Candela really contextualizes photography into something that’s different. They think about process and the different mediums.
- Ada used to have a sister gallery in New York so I think they bring really weird art to Richmond in the best way. Each year, they show at the UNTITLED Art Fair in Miami. John Pollard, the gallery owner, really has his finger on the pulse of what’s happening in contemporary art right now in a way not a lot of people are doing.
- Diversity Richmond’s Iridian Gallery is one of the few LGBT art galleries in the country. It’s really rare in the south to have a gallery devoted to queer artists and queer themes.
Visit Quirk Gallery at 207 W Broad St to catch a glimpse of Michael’s work year-round. For more of Michael's work, follow him on Instagram.