Embroidery Artist | Michael Birch Pierce

Embroidery Artist | Michael Birch Pierce


[music] My name
is Michael Birch Pierce. I don’t really knowif I could
say how art has changed my life because it’s like
always been my life. I kind of always wanted
to be an artist. I think it was my first idea
of a job that I wanted to do, and then I decided
I wanted to be a rock star and then I wanted to be a vet and then I went back
to rock star and then it became
fashion designer and then the fashion designer
kind of like was my career and then morphed into artist
in the last six years. Comment by George Parker:
add I’m
trained in couture embroidery and sequins and rhinestones
and the fashion design. So all of the art is
pretty sparkly and handstitched. I was at Savannah College
of Art and Design getting a degree in fibers,
and I was really focused on going back into
the fashion industry and working in New York and designing embellishment
for big designers. At some point in
my thesis research I got really interested
in embellishment. I got really interested
in the idea of artifice [phonetic]
and the idea of the surfaces that we create to embellish
ourselves and identify ourselves and started making
a lot of garments that were very sparkly, and that sort of morphed
into a fine art practice. I realized that the work
still spoke for itself and told the same stories
without having to be on a body, being able to reference fashion, being able to have it
connected to that world. It didn’t necessarily
need to be on a dress. It’s just morphed and changed
and like every few months it turns into something
completely different. I think I’m probably most
inspired by like David Bowie and the Spice Girls
and Dolly Parton and RuPaul. I’m really interested
in the idea of constructing identity in the way
that all those people do. And so I look at them
and I look at fashion designers like Elsa Schiaparelli.
I look at Mary Katrantzou, artists like Nick Cave and
Liza Lu and Michalene Thomas, just lots of very queer things,
lots of very sparkly things, and I kind of pull
from everywhere. And I try to make
my embellishment something that’s like very,
very much like Michael Birch, that it’s something
that like only I do so you can like recognize these
like explosions of rhinestones when you see them. In 2010 I got to embroider
the Christmas tree skirt for the Blue Room at
the White House for the Obamas, and that was completely nuts and it’s kind of changed my
trajectory of everything else. And so now I’ve done portraits of like John Malkovich
and Shaquille O’Neal. So a big part of my practice, which is so much bigger
than I ever thought it would be, is my embroidered portraits. And so what I do
is I draw portraits of people with my sewing machine. So like I’ll look at you
and you’ll sit in front of me, and while you’re sitting there, I just move the fabric
under the sewing machine. In about three to five minutes I draw a portrait of you
in one continuous line. I get to connect with people
in this like really intimate way just like one on one
for three minutes and just study your face
really intensely and have this conversation
while I’m doing it and then I finish the portrait
and I hand it to you and it’s just gone
and I never see it again. With the machine embroidery,
it’s really intense and really immediate
and it kind of happens without me really thinking
about it a lot. And I’m usually
kind of more focused on whatever conversation
I’m having with the person and what’s going on around me. But the hand embroidery
is just me like alone with the fabric and the needle
and the rhinestones and the beads
and all that stuff, and it’s meditative
and it’s calming and I just like get in a zone and I just lose
all track of time. Sometimes I think about
what the work is about and I think about all of these,
you know, heady art theory, gender theory
sort of things about it. Each piece is very much
about my identity and my gender
and my sexuality. And so I try to meditate
on those topics and try to think about what
I’m trying to say with a piece. But for large portions
of the time for these like hours that I spend working on it,
I kind of just zone out. It’s something that I need. If I don’t do it,
my brain goes crazy. [laughs] Being connected to all of these
other painters and sculptors and the music scene
and theater scene, it’s really vibrant
and exciting and I feel like I belong here
in a way that it was very hard to feel like one
really belongs in New York, that everybody’s fighting each
other there for attention, everybody is trying
to climb up some, you know, invisible ladder, but here everybody
is really supportive and it’s such
a cool community, and I think that that’s one
of the big reasons why I chose to stay here
in Richmond. To see my work, people could
probably most easily find me on Instagram at Michael Birch; on my website,
michaelbirchpierce.com. Otherwise, my work is in shows
in Miami and Savannah, and I think there’s one
in Norfolk coming up. It’s everywhere.
The internet… Instagram is the best place
to see it. [laughs]

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