Posted by: richardhpierce | March 7, 2010

Richard Pierce always wanted to be a painter but his father advised him that it was an unreliable career and recommended architecture which, he said, would combine artistry with building, which had been the family business for several generations in Enniskillen.

During his teenage years he learned watercolour technique from Michael Tovey, the art master at Portora and Ian Storie, a young architect recently arrived from Glasgow, for whom he worked for a gap year in 1961.

At Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland, where Richard studied Architecture from 1962 till 1968, he spent as much time as he could in the painting studios and did life drawing classes and stained glass design. During his time there he was very much taken with the Scottish academic tradition and admired the work of William Gillies, Robin Philipson, Anne Redpath and others and was bowled over by work he saw in museums by the Scottish Colourists and the Glasgow Boys. He loves the work of Peploe and Cadell.

Throughout his life he has never stopped painting but, because of a busy life as an architect, it has had to remain a part-time hobby. Nevertheless he has, for the past twenty years, exhibited in group shows, firstly with Ross Wilson in the One Oxford Street Gallery in Belfast and latterly with Emma Moore in the Basement Gallery here in Enniskillen.

As an architect, he was, as every professional should be, concerned with communication and most of his work with clients involved graphic, literal representations of proposed buildings. He has been doing illustrative architectural drawings for the last 50 years and it is not surprising that it has affected his paintings.

However, Richard was married for 15 years to the internationally-renowned painter Janet Pierce, and although he never had formal lessons from her, he observed her soak-stain technique of saturating paper or unsealed, raw canvas with water so that the pigment ran and softened. He used this method himself for many years but when he retired from architecture in 2006, he celebrated with a six-week house swap with a large lady who had a beach house on one of the more remote islands in Hawaii. There, living on the side of a live volcano, he observed the lava flowing into the sea, cooling down and becoming rock. He suddenly understood so much of how the earth was formed and what geology was all about. He realised that rocks are just as living and organic as trees or mammals. They just move a little more slowly! He began to draw and paint them and, because the black lava was so crisp, he discovered that its nature could not be captured in the soft-focus of his watercolours to date so he began to experiment with harder-edge techniques.

He became further fascinated by rocks when romance too him to Finland. In 2007 he met his partner, who lives on the Baltic coast there. Finland is flat and covered with coniferous trees. One of the most conspicuous remains of the ice age is the incredible profusion of glacial erratic boulders. Of course they exist in many countries, including Ireland, but in Finland there are millions of them, even in the centres of cities. They are simply large boulders, some as big as a house, which were lifted by the glaciers and transported, sometimes hundreds of miles. It is possible to find a glacial erratic of granite or limestone many miles from the area where it was originally formed.

These erratics, especially the large ones, have a tremendous presence: some are benign, some evil. Richard loves to feel that they come alive in his paintings.

He is very happy to have his work described as illustrative. He likes to tell a story with a painting. The two watercolours of Claddagh Glen, for instance, were painted just after the terrible floods of November 2009, showing the vegetation sodden and trees overturned by landslides.┬áThe red, fallen leaves on the archaeology at the Burren (the one in Cavan, not Clare!) make one ponder how many autumns it has seen. It won’t be long before the dead tree at the old church in Derrygonnelly falls so the painting is a record of a point in history.