In My Busby Berkeley Dreams

A Madison County Woman & Aeon(installation view). 2010
I use high- and low-tech approaches in my drawings and bookart to address issues of sexual identity and beauty. My work emphasizes process, content, and image. I create pictures using tightly cropped symbolic figurative imagery. I also leave smudges, smears, and traces of what happened in the making of the work to make process more visible.
In my work I would like you to consider what you see and what you don’t see, to smile in recognition of something you might never have really thought about before. And when I really get it right, you might even question your own feelings concerning the cont
As a fifty-nine-year-old gay man, I relate to Said’s and Foucault’s concept of The Other. I lived through an adolescence of secrets and then came to art school at VCU in the late sixties. College for me became a protected artificial environment. Oddly for me, being gay or, for that matter, being any kind of outsider in that setting, became a positive attribute. After art school I found that the real world was not so welcoming. So, I used the gathered strength from my art school experience to continue to be true to myself. I fell in love with my African-American partner, Ron, and we have lived here in the former capital of the Confederacy for the past thirty-five years. We have made a home together and are treated as a couple by our friends, families, and co-workers, most everyone. However, I have never really lost the feeling of being treated as The Other. Gay people still don’t quite measure up.
My art has always dealt with these issues of sexual identity. In his 1997 essay on flamboyant pianist and entertainer Liberace’s (1919-1987) “open secret” of homosexuality, Dave Hickey (b. 1939) says, “Sexuality is no longer a mere matter of biology and whim. It means something.” In dealing with issues of sexuality, some people may even find my art to be prurient. In a 1970 Vogue interview, Andy Warhol (1928-1987) said, “Prurience is part of the machine. It keeps you happy. It keeps you running.” I find power in gently conveying the prurience of gay sexuality in my work. In my drawings of men kissing, I have the viewer confront an image pretty much unknown in art history, in my domestic pictures and bookart depicting pies and Martha Stewart,
I use subjects not typically depicted by male artists, and in a recent installation I placed sexy, handsome im- ages of men’s faces beside safe images of rabbit faces. I find that my art is a constant quest to find ways to join viewers where they are, and have them join me where I am.
When I am in my studio, it is filled with music, especially the music of songwriter and The Magnetic Fields bandleader, Stephin Merritt (b. 1964). Merritt wrote a song called Busby Berkeley Dreams and it has been an inspiration for much of the artwork I have done recently. The song includes the lines “We still dance on whirling stages... We still dance in my outrageously beautiful Busby Berkeley dreams” (Merritt 1999). Busby Berkeley (1895-1976), a Hollywood movie director and musical choreographer, was famous for his elaborate musical production numbers that often involved complex kaleidoscopic patterns of showgirls and objects.
My drawings and bookart have become densely layered with images and swirling polka dots like a choreo- graphed scene in a Busby Berkeley film. With this work I am trying to change minds by offering layered mes- sages to the viewer and at the same time hoping to add some beauty to the world.
Michael A. Pierce, 2010Artspace Gallery, Richmond, VA
In My Busby Berkeley Dreams (detail)(installation view). 2010
Fertile, Pansy, Thought, Amulet(installation view). 2010
These Works Truly(installation view). 2010