Bodily fluids: Pierce abstracts anatomy

Bethany Pierce is one of those people who make the rest of us— okay, I’ll just speak for me— look like talentless slackers. Not only is she the author of two critically acclaimed novels, but she’s also an accomplished painter. That she’s pretty, married to a physician, and so nice you can’t dislike her for any of it only adds insult to injury.

But returning to the second and fourth points, Pierce’s recent painting series, inspired by medical investigations of the human body, is currently on view at Chroma Projects in the exhibition, “milieu intérieur.” The 10 large and 6 small oil-on-panel works initially seem familiar, resembling electrical readouts, x-rays, and slide samples viewed through a microscope, but upon closer examination, they become elusively abstract and filled with mystery.

When I spoke to Pierce at the show’s opening, I asked why she’d omitted two pieces I’d seen in her McGuffey Art Center studio. She said, “Oh, they’re here,” and pointed to two vertical works by the door, noting, “They’ve changed since you saw them last week.” Resembling x-rays of a pelvic bone and a spine, the images had gone from having electric blue backgrounds to floating in a sea of black, an indication of Pierce’s skill at working and re-working color layers to create depth and subtle effects.

Her images may seem photo-realistic at a cursory glance, but a few minutes of study reveal how Pierce revels in their painting-ness. She embraces the bristled gestures of her brushes and occasionally lets paint drip and dribble. Her aesthetic involves shifting from delineated strokes to areas of murky diffusion, where her images dissolve into the background. For example, in “Conviction,” which resembles an x-ray of several neck vertebrae, a thin stroke of brilliant white moves sinuously between a top oval of black, resembling infinite space partially lit by Milky Way-like galaxy, and a similarly shaped area of luminous gray tinged with green at the bottom.

It’s easy to get lost in looking at Pierce’s large works, but her small paintings are particularly noteworthy for her stunning manipulation of color. Springing from magnified views of tissues and fluids, Pierce emphasizes the abstract beauty of these microcosms. Her color-rich transitions from definition to diffusion are breathtaking, as each piece pulses with movement and interior light.

Perhaps Pierce has made more art than a body should, but her brilliant results speak for themselves.

Bethany Pierce’s exhibition, “milieu intérieur,” is on view through February 26 at Chroma Projects Art Laboratory, 418 E. Main St. 202-0269.

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