Artist of the Week

Cole Pierce

July 14, 2014

Cole Pierce lives and works in Chicago. He earned an MFA in Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University, a Post-Baccalaureate in Painting and Drawing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a BA in Art and a BA Sociology from Cornell College. He recently had a solo show at Butler University, was in a group show at CAM Raleigh, has been in numerous exhibitions in and around Chicago and also as far as Cairo, Egypt and Sarajevo, Bosnia.  Modern Painters Magazine reviewed his work in 2012 and he has been featured in many online publications including Papercut Magazine, Disquiet, Art Social, and Sixty Inches from the Center.  He is a co-author of Field Mic, a sound art and music blog and is a contributor to NUMBERS.FM, an experimental music radio station.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. I grew up in Iowa and moved to Chicago shortly after college, where I lived in a house full of art students and transients before going to graduate school.  Back then my practice included anything and everything, and in grad school I narrowed it down to painting, found object installation, and video.  I was interested in finding and making a quiet flickering moment that I equated to everyday epiphanies. I graduated in 2007 from NU and for a couple years I was in brainstorming mode, inventing systems to make abstract paintings and making analog glitch videos. My current project, the Triangle is the Strongest Shape, came out of that brainstorming period. This series started in 2008, but I was also working on 2 or 3 other projects at the same time. In 2011 I decided to dedicate my studio to the Triangle series because I realized that all of the issues I was interested in could be found in these paintings of skewed triangle grids. I was, and still am fascinated with the visceral effect of Op Art and it being an example of a limit of cognition. By the time I was technically able to achieve a mind-blowing optical effect, I became more interested in the imperfections and started to add elements that detracted from the strong optics. I wanted to focus on the phase transition into the optical effect, which I am still working on today.

What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like? My process is formulaic and I make gradual changes over time. I keep a notebook with rough sketches and ideas to try.  I’ll make 3 or 4 paintings with similar color and compositions before moving on to the next idea. I start with a layer of acrylic, which I cover in a pattern of triangles that I have cut out of painters tape. This is the time consuming part where I slowly build the structure and decide how many glitches will disrupt the pattern.  After the tape is sealed I’ll use oils to paint a gradient or a fluid abstraction.  The final product is revealed when I peel off the tape.

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? I am currently working on a set of three paintings, a kind of subset of the series, each sized 48”x 60” in mostly black to white gradients.  They will be #44, #45 and #46 of the series, and they are the first paintings I’ve made where there are multiple layers of gradients over the masked off triangle grid.

I also have an ongoing side project where I make an edition of audio multiples about once a year.  It is essentially an intricate mix CD of ambient, electronic and found sounds that I distribute to a mailing list and share on the internet.  I sent out the last edition in March of 2014, and this summer I will start collecting songs that will determine the theme for the next edition.

What are you currently watching on Netflix/what’s on your Netflix queue? I don’t know about Netflix but the new Fargo series on FX is fun to watch. Some of the intros are long, one-take scenes like Gus Van Zant or Bela Tarr, minimal and sinister.


What is one of the bigger challenges you and/or other artists are struggling with these days and how do you see it developing? The biggest challenge is making a decent living. There are plenty of opportunities to exhibit in Chicago and the arts community here is strong but the market is not so supportive. There are a handful of success stories, but most artists I know have day jobs and are now starting families. My kids were both born when I was in grad school so I’ve had time to find a balance between work/art making/parenting.  It is still a struggle, especially on beautiful days when I’d rather be at the beach with my kids than working in the studio.

What artists are you interested in right now? Tauba Auerbach and her instagram feed, Jessica Eaton, Anoka Faruqee, Russell Tyler, and Jeremy DePrez to name a few.  I’ve unintentionally become a heavy tumblr user, and will frequently post artwork I find on the internet.  So you could say I’m interested in a gazillion artists right now but I don’t know if they really count because I’ve only seen their work on a bright digital screen. I try to reserve judgement until I’ve seen it for real.


How has your work developed within the past year? Last winter I decided to complicate the paintings further by adding a layer of smaller triangles, which is the beginning of the Sierpinski fractal pattern. This made the pattern more detailed and it also gave me an extra layer to play with, so I could combine various gradient compositions. Last fall I was experimenting with vibrant color combinations, which I was happy with, but when I changed up the composition I decided to return to black and white in order to focus on what the new structure was doing.  I have one more painting to make in this black and white mode and then I’ll decide how to bring more vibrant colors into the mix.


What are you really excited about right now? Biking 20 miles a day on my commute to work now that the weather is nice and Chicago is beautiful once again.

Listening to audiobooks in the studio. I just finished the Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons, an epic sci fi space drama. Another of my recent favorites is 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. The process of taping off the canvas is quite time consuming so I just settle in and put on an audio book.

Any current or upcoming shows we should know about? I’m in a group show at Johalla Projects that opens July 25th. Josue Pellot and I are working on a collaborative piece for a show at Roman Susan on October 10th. I also have work in a massive group show in October at Elder Gallery in Lincoln, NE.

What are you listening to right now? Future Islands, Deru, Ray Charles, Colin Vallon Trio, Man Forever & So Percussion, anything that comes out on 12k, and the Lee Scratch Perry Pandora station.