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Graduate Spotlight: Matthew Pierce

By Tom Robinson

Matthew Pierce once couldn't picture a career for himself as an artist. But as he prepares to graduate from Old Dominion University, Pierce's palette is flush with ideas, including what he hopes will be his "life's work" - helping young artists cultivate their own creativity.

"I want to be an incubation tank for children's ideas," said Pierce, who will graduate Dec. 16 with a fine-arts degree concentrated in drawing and design. "I'll teach them how to business pitch, how to outsource to different companies to get materials, from concept to prototyping, brainstorming, all of that. The goal is to take intangible ideas and make them tangible."

Pierce already does those things and more as director of his own design company, YIIÄ, which Pierce calls a "multi-media conglomerate." As YIIÄ, Pierce draws designs for a friend's budding sportswear company, and he also manages musical artists, including his younger brother Luke, a producer and performer.

"I hope to make a living doing all of these creative things," he said.

Pierce is off to a strong start. More than 11,500 people follow his color-splashed Instagram page yiiädesign, where he posts videos and his latest anime-like drawings. Pierce draws his portraits in pencil, scans them into Photoshop and then applies what he calls non-traditional skin-tone colors, favoring deep reds, blues and purples.

His designs and logo wind up on his business partner's sportswear and on stage with the musicians he helps book and promote. Pierce also creates his own clothing prototypes, using a South Korean production plant with which he's forged a relationship.

A Chesapeake resident, Pierce attended Western Branch High and the Governor's School for the Arts in Norfolk. But he cites his first viewing of the animated Japanese film "Spirited Away" a decade ago as his eye-opening revelation to a world of artful possibilities.

"That movie literally changed my life," said Pierce, who in high school assumed designing tattoos, which he didn't want to do, was his only practical way to make money as an artist. "It expanded my vision and made me think differently about art and drawing. It's helped me to be a creative problem-solver. That's what YIIÄ is about, not just having all these ideas but doing something with them."

YIIÄ itself meant nothing when he created the concept; Pierce said he simply liked how the combined letters looked. However, Pierce recently took his 9-year-old brother's suggestion that the acronym should stand for "Your Idea Is Amazing."

Fittingly, Old Dominion associate professor of art Elliott Jones said Pierce amazes him with his enthusiasm, cultural curiosity and defined goals. They all influence Pierce's work, he said.

"Matt is an exceptional talent," said Jones, Pierce's advisor. "He's also a mature talent in that he knows what it is he wants to do. He approaches everything with this entrepreneurial attitude. He has a very real interest in bringing others into the fold and helping them pursue their interests."

Pierce attended Tidewater Community College, including its Visual Arts Center in Portsmouth, before transferring to Old Dominion, where he said his creative energy was nourished. Now, he wants to take YIIÄ father into the vibrant realm of commercial art in the manner of his favorite cutting-edge designers, Takashi Murakami and KAWS.

"They're redefining what fine art or contemporary art is, and I'm very interested in pushing that boundary," Pierce said. "Not just putting drawings up on a wall, but making art more of an interactive experience."