An Interview with Michael-Birch Pierce

MBP-self-portrait

Self-Portrait of the Artist
Free-motion embroidered, hand cut and pieced leather on cotton muslin.

Since joining Virginia Commonwealth University as the Visual Arts Research Librarian this past August, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many interesting and talented people. One of our new Fashion faculty members, Michael-Birch Pierce stood out because we both have double barrelled first names, we’re both SCAD alums – and his design work is amazing! Michael-Birch and I connected because he wanted his students to be able to do proper research in the library for his classes, which made my nerdy little librarian heart happy. As I learned more about him and his design philosophy, I knew my FT&C colleagues would appreciate him as much as I do.

Michael-Birch is a fashion designer and fiber artist. He got his BFA in Fashion Design from VCU and his MFA in Fibers from SCAD. While at SCAD, he did an internship with Dianne von Furstenburg and in 2010 he embroidered Christmas decorations for the Obama White House. Michael creates delicately hand-embroidered garments, whimsical installations, colorful prints and expressively stitched illustrations. All share a rich textural quality that makes you appreciate the whole, but revel in the details.

Here in his own words are some of his thoughts on his work…

Q: Who or what are your main influences as an artist?

A: My main influences probably started with David Bowie, The Spice Girls, and the X-Men, to be honest. I am irrepressibly drawn to glamour and showmanship. Nowadays I look to fashion designers like Elsa Schiaparelli, Mary Katranzou, Christopher Kane, and Muiccia Prada as well as artists Nick Cave, Jim Hodges, and Liza Lou. I’m also heavily influenced by history, anthropology, psychology, and geology.

Q: What themes/concepts do you address in your work?

 A: My central focus is on notions of artifice and identity. I’m interested the physical and emotional barriers that people build in their daily lives. Fashion is the most immediate and personal of these barriers so it is the jumping off point for my fine artwork. My obsessive manipulation of thousands of sparkling elements is an attempt to create intimacy from something fake. I’m also experimenting with transparency, incompletion, and destruction as means of exposing the reality behind my artifices.

 Q: What are your favorite materials and tools?

 A: Well I clearly love anything shiny. Swarovski crystals, sequins, beads, and broken costume jewelry are my main mediums. I also love working with transparent silks, leathers, and vinyl. I’ve also been crossing a line into paints and liquid rubbers recently. As far as tools, I’d be helpless without a sharp pair of thread snips, a sturdy plastic embroidery hoop, and reading glasses. Also, organization is vital. My studio is a wreck but every bead and sequin has its own compartment in one of my dozens of color coordinated boxes.

MBP-Union_dress

“Union” Silk Taffeta, Digitally-dyed Silk Organza Leather, Hand Embellished with Croplets 100% Cotton Sequins, Swarovski crystals, sequins, glass beads. Photo: Karen Seifert Photography.

Q: What books/magazines do you find most useful/inspiring?

 A: I think fashion magazines like Vogue and W provide wonderful visual inspiration and are too often discredited as frivolous. That said, as a fashion professor I push myself and students to look at outside sources to find more well-rounded research. National Geographic, science and technology periodicals, and travel magazines are excellent. I also love exhibition catalogues from all sorts of museums: costume, fine art, or history.

Q: How do you use the library to support your work?

 A: It’s not enough to just find visual inspiration as an artist. If I’m inspired by a time period or architecture style or African beading I can’t just collect pictures. I need to read everything I can on the subject until I have a good working knowledge of what I’m investigating. I need to be able to speak and write about my inspirations. The library is an incredible tool for taking a tiny bit of information that I found in a magazine or on Pinterest and expanding my knowledge through books, journals, and special collections.

 Q: As an instructor, how would you like your students to use the library?

 A: I would like to see my fashion students come into class with more information than the first 12 images that popped up on Google when they typed in “Art Deco Architecture.” When so much is available instantly and for free on the internet, they forget that there is a whole wealth of content elsewhere and that the search for it can actually be fun. I think I need to assign a project where all of their research has to come from physical sources. It’s going to take them much further.

 Q: What could the library do to better support creatives?

 A: I know I would use books more if there were more color copiers and scanners! Sometimes we want to take the information we’ve found without taking the whole heavy book.

sewingmachineportrait5

“Honor” Cotton and lurex and machine embroidery on wool felt 11″ x 17″

See more of Michael’s work on his website michaelbirchpierce.com.

See him create a Free-motion Embroidered Portrait like the one on the left…in minutes!
Get a peek at his thoughts and adventures on instagram.com/michaelbirch
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