Bethany Pierce is holding a bake sale. Like any homemade pastries displayed for the public, her goods were made with great earnestness and are easy to love.
However, Pierce’s offerings are likely to stick around longer. In the painter’s decadent oil-on-panel still lifes, heavy dollops of cream and flaky crusts tantalize the viewer. Cherry juice drips, confectioner’s sugar dusts a table. And, just like edible bake-sale items sold to raise funds, these sweet, popular paintings allow Pierce to do what she’s most keen to do — what she calls the “spiritual diving” of her abstract work.
“I love dramatic lighting,” she says. In fact, everything she paints seems illuminated from within. Pierce describes the process she uses to create this light, using “cellophane-thin sheets of color one on top of the other, so that your eye mixes them optically, rather than the paint being mixed on the palette.”
For many years, the artist’s work focused on the human body, a glowing exploration of bones, muscles, arteries, and joints gracefully merging with more recognizable human features while seeming to teeter on the edge of abstraction. These days, she speaks passionately about her new portfolio of abstracts, done in highly fluid acrylic paints that can be poured and washed over the canvas.
One almost gets lost in their depths. Yet they also seem to reach back toward the figurative. Is there a hint of a view through deep water, distant stormy clouds, perhaps the curve of a spine? Each canvas seems to be undulating, gliding, or rushing at the viewer.
To Pierce, all of her work hinges on connection to the body. As she says, “I’ve gone from the body as a subject to the body as a vehicle of expression. I’m actually in my skin and dancing with the canvas because I have to respond so quickly to the paint.” Also a novelist, she speaks with conviction about this state, which she likens to writing a rough draft, where “anything can happen and there are no rules.”
The finale, though, is quite intentional. “I don’t want to add any ugliness to my little corner of the world. If I can make an object that’s very emotionally beautiful for somebody and feeds them in a way, that’s a wonderful thing to do.”
Bethany Pierce, Asheville. For more information, see bethanypierce.com.