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Monday, April 19, 2021

Developing Artists Document the Lives of Exclusionary Individuals

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Elijah Pierce’s studio in the Glebe neighborhood is a dark, dark, lavender-scented maze. He is surrounded by junk and junk food; shelves filled with partially taped-up picture frames, discarded Barbie dolls, Barbie knockoffs. He is wearing white overalls with dark shades and a snaggle-toothed smile.

The noise emanates from both the store and the work. On a laptop, various videos of animals are looped, his thoughts thrown around the screen. He works for four hours a day in what amounts to a bustling ant farm, but his energy soars to exhilarating heights when interacting with his vision. A song is banged out, encouraging animated feats; exotic pets are organized as a gallery in the middle of a makeshift backyard. He does art in muted tones and in lilting gestures.

When he visited the Times about the initiative for five minutes, he told me to be in his studio at 10 a.m. the next day to film his daily life. He uses an old television as a stand.

He said that he wants to make it where art can thrive — where it won’t suffer because of the stigma of being an outsider. His talent and his effort to use his work to tell his personal stories are not the elements of him that make him different, but rather his commitment to them.

In 2010, after graduate school at Yale, Mr. Pierce suffered a mental health crisis and nearly lost his own life. He drifted and experimented with drugs and alcohol. He woke in the garage of his gated home, “shell-shocked,” he said. The pain from a fractured back caused him to lose use of his legs. When he regained his strength, he took action. He began a Kickstarter project to raise money for a studio. The project was a success, and the studio was constructed. The studio is run entirely on his own time. He calls it “One Piece: An Outsider Artist,” and encourages like-minded strangers to join his work with his art.

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