A Portrait of the Artists as Young Men 

Brothers, artists make good in Boise

Marcus and Skyler Pierce are driven to succeed as artists. In their respective careers so far, the brothers Pierce have each shown their work extensively, worked with other artists in the community, been employed under fine craftsmen and created and developed places where artists can come together to live and work. Together, they have founded and run an organization dedicated to furthering the arts in Boise, put on numerous art shows and inspired other artists around them to keep working and pushing themselves. Now the Pierces have again joined forces and combined their considerable talents into a commercial venture: a company called Pierce Brothers Fine Art. The company specializes in murals, but is open to any sort of artistic commission. Their first work under the new banner is the mural on the west side of the building at the Trolley House Restaurant on Warm Springs Avenue, which they completed over the summer.

"Right after I finished working at my last job, I was approached to do the Trolley House mural," says Marcus, the younger of the two brothers at 24. "I immediately called Skyler, because I saw the opportunity for us to work together to do the actual painting, which is what we are both trained in and love to do."

Sklyer, 26, picks up the story: "At the time, we didn't have the freedom to work on our own projects exclusively. We were both working under other artists, basically being their hands. We both got tired of being under the thumb of someone else. This was the perfect opportunity for us to make names for ourselves, instead of helping to make other people's names who are already established."

The chance to break away from their day jobs and start their own business came as a relief to both brothers. "If you stop doing your own work, you're actually making your own prison," says Skyler. "We have the choice to be able to be artists. If you have the mind to do it, you can. My last work experience really showed me that if you don't take advantage of your [own talent], then someone else will."

As it turned out, the opportunity provided by the mural proved to be something of a culmination for the brothers, as well as a new beginning. "We were trying to hit a couple of different levels. One was to work together on large projects," says Skyler. "With anything of that size, you need a second hand, not only for the physical work itself, but also to just help keep you going. And with commercial work, all of it is to some extent a compromise. How do you take what they want exactly and do it in a way that makes it interesting for you?"

"The mural gave us the opportunity to exercise some of the things we'd been working with at other places," says Marcus. "It gave us a new venue in which to continue developing our own technique."

The brothers, being so close in age, have grown up working collaboratively. They came from what they describe as a "rough" financial background in a creative family. They learned to be independent early on, and both moved out on their own at age 15. While they appreciated the lively environment growing up, they were also able to learn from it. "Just being a creative visionary isn't enough," is one such lesson that Marcus remembers. "You have to be able to do something with it."

Acting on creative impulses seems to be at the core of the Pierce brothers' belief in art and their drive to succeed. They also seek to inspire other artists to do the same, which was the impetus behind the Northwest Liberal Arts Association, an organization that they ran during their years at BSU from 1999 to 2003.

"We developed the organization as a response to all of the artists who complain about all the reasons that they can't do their work," says Marcus.

"We held weekly art meetings, and the whole thematic was 'Less Talk; More Rock,'" adds Skyler. "We tried to get people motivated to do their work."

The association established a presence in the community by putting on several large-scale shows known as "The Projects" and hosting the "Speakeasy" performances of art, music, and spoken word at the Boise Cafe. "Our idea was to present what we think are the ideals of the arts should be, which we weren't seeing at the galleries and events that already existed," says Marcus. "The whole point was to act, to do something."

The climate for creating art has been impaired in recent years. "Things changed in the art world post-9/11," according to Skyler. "The politics got hairy, and a lot of artists kind of put things on hold and just hunkered down a little bit."

"I think it affected people's studio work," says Marcus. "Artists became scared and afraid to talk about things. Now, people feel this pressure on them but there's an inability to express it. At that point, that's when the visual arts become important. Through images, you can create a voice to make tangible some of these ideas."

As part of their larger plan to inspire other artist to produce work, Skyler is at work on his third "art house." These are residential properties that he buys and refurbishes for the explicit purpose of renting them out to several creative people at a time who live there and work on their art. The first house was the Brick House, which provided a template for his current two-house project known as Boxcar Row.

"I find that a lot of kids get hung up on 'this is who I am and this is my art,'" explains Skyler. "People need to get over the individualism of being an artist. All the great artists had guilds or at least another hand or two in their work. In contemporary art, it's hard to be a specialist in one medium. You need to know all your elements."

"There is a common misconception of how art is produced," continues Marcus. "You often find people being overly self-righteous about their work. In society today, you need to be able to work with multiple people and do multiple things in order to produce work. You need to be able to paint, but also to lead. It's all part of the palette for creating great art."

The Pierce brothers continue to produce their own studio work as well as their collaborations. They have been working on a series with chickens that they started when they were each transitioning out of their jobs. Marcus' paintings are of cockfights, while Skyler's show hens confined in cages. "They're reflections of the feelings that you get when you're working for someone else to make the rent," says Marcus. "We're also working on paintings with a classical approach, showing brothers piggy-backing each other. It's us as we are: brothers balancing on each other, supporting each other."

"I'm working toward a balance between classicism and modernity," says Marcus. "It's important to be familiar with the history of painting and to understand yourself. Then you combine the two to make new history."

For more information and images, visit www.marcuspierce.com.

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