For her first exhibition at Bockley Gallery, Lela Pierce turns the gallery’s traditionally white space jet black in an immersive installation that explores transformation and threads of her own spiritual interests and ethnic heritage. For Variations on a Sun Star, the artist pierces the blackness with radiantly hued works across media, from neon-and-white paintings on black paper to riotously colored sculptures to textile pillows.
Pierce’s large-scale works on paper combine iconography from her African American father’s lineage and her mother’s European ancestry—from the West African concept of Sankofa, often rendered as a bird looking back over its shoulder, which refers to going back to retrieve that which is at risk of being lost, to imagery of psyanky, often referred to as a “Ukrainian egg,” from her mother’s Lemko and Rusyn forebears. In pre-Christian times, these eggs were often inscribed with adorations to a sun god, which is the spark for Pierce’s investigation. She notes a corollary between this egg imagery and the human body: each work is roughly torso-shaped. “I’m thinking about the way the geometry of transformation and stars sits in the body,” she says. Also infused in the work are influences from Pierce’s studies in India: over seven years, she returned repeatedly to study yoga meditation, Madhubani painting (with Manisha Jha) and classical Indian dance (Odissi).