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Florence Pierce

(1918 - 2007)
Florence Miller Pierce was born in Washington, D.C. Her interest in art emerged at an early age, but her formal training did not begin until she was enrolled in 1935 at the Studio School of the Phillips Memorial Art Gallery (since renamed the Phillips Collection) and the Corcoran School of Art, both in Washington, D.C. In this time, she learned of Emil Bisttram's Taos School of Art and soon traveled to New Mexico to study in the summer of 1936. Through Bisttram, Florence Miller met Horace Towner Pierce, an art student and one of the founders of the Taos-based Transcendental Painting Group (TPG), and they married in 1938.

In that same year, as the youngest member of the TPG, Pierce with the other eight members dedicated themselves to abstract art expression, grounded in imagination and the transporting of painting beyond objective recognition. TPG banded together to share ideas and organized mutual exhibition venues to put forward non-objective and abstract art, exhibitions which included the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939 in San Francisco.

In the years to follow, Pierce’s austere, abstract works reflecting color, beauty and natural forms were a synthesis of Emil Bisttram’s instruction around "Idea, Shape, Color and Form." Pierce painted bold abstracts with a single floral or shell-like motif suspended in indeterminate space, utilizing a minimal palette of contrasting hues. Morang describes her work as placing "the non-objective into a slightly mystical field of beautiful color relationships.” In Pierce’s own words, she strove "to delve beyond the bonds of matter.”

Her painting eventually aligned with her dedication to Zen Buddhism and meditation. As her art evolved, many of her works gave the appearance of floating off the wall, something she achieved with richly colored and textured geometric shapes---polygons, triangles, and rectangles---encased in divided layers of transparent resin over colors that had been softened through mixing with milled fiberglass.

Pierce began to search for new media with which to challenge herself. She expanded into new crafts around 1966, sandblasting images onto native stones ("garden stones"), carving doors, and designing jewelry. Toward the end of the decade Pierce made large wall sculptures stemming from the sandblasted stone forms. These were made of carved foam which was textured to resemble rock formations of the New Mexican desert.

In the 1970s Pierce explored poured resin in her New Mexico studio. A chance spill of resin on aluminum foil revealed a shimmering effect and captivated the artist. She developed a method of adhering resin to mirrored tiles, and variations of this method drove the work for decades. These particular pieces were later featured in a 2005 Tucson Museum of Art solo exhibition, and the resin-on-mirror paintings were described as "jeweled bits of minimalism, delicately colored and sensuously textured."

Throughout her mature artistic career, Pierce continued to produce these geometric abstract and non-objective paintings and relief sculptures of layered pigmented resin. She became a strong admirer of Agnes Martin, the renowned but reclusive painter from Taos and her peer. In 2004, Pierce, Martin and the potter, Maria Martinez, were honored in a group show, In Pursuit of Perfection, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe.

Florence Miller Pierce, who had made New Mexico her home in 1950, consistently produced artwork which was often described as "distillations of the New Mexico landscape" with their "stark geometry and earthy color palette." Late in life, Pierce participated in exhibitions such as the prestigious "Still Working," which toured nationally, or "Independent Spirits: Women Artists of the American West, 1890-1945." She won various awards, including the first celebrated Site Santa Fe Grant in 1995. Lucy Lippard, an internationally renowned art critic and activist, published a biographical essay of Pierce, In Touch with Light, in the spring of 1997. Pierce died at age 90 at her home in Albuquerque in 2007.


Sources:
Margaret Regan, "Reflective, Like Jewels", Tucson Weekly, October 13, 2005,
http://www.tucsonweekly.com/gbase/Arts/Content?oid=74136

Jennifer Riley, "Florence Pierce", The Brooklyn Rail, May 2006, http://www.brooklynrail.org/2006/05/artseen/florence-pierce

Obituary, Art in America, December 2007

Albuquerque Tribune Online: Interview with the artist
http://web.abqtrib.com/archives/diversions01/071301_diversions_pierce.shtml

Peter Hastings Falk (editor), Who Was Who in American Art



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