Artist’s Quest Transforms Himself

Elon Musk
Elon Musk

John Lennon, Janis Joplin, Carl Sagan, Elon Musk, Stephen King and Leonardo DaVinci and DiCaprio. The well-known names that seem to lack much in common have all helped shape popular culture in a unique way. Now, artist Russell Pierce plans to portray them and others in a portfolio project he calls “Change Agents.”


Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin

It is comprised of altogether 50 portraits drawn, painted or rendered digitally in styles to suit the subjects, all of whom made an impact on him and the rest of the world. Some did so with their music, some through art, others through science and enterprise,   and one, Malala Yousafzai, for bravery, risking her life for girls’ education and winning a Nobel Prize. “It was hard to pick just 50 from so many people who have done so much for the world,” said Pierce, a Laguna Beach resident.

They include Buddy Rich, whom Pierce saw on television at age 4. The entertainer inspired the child to repurpose mom’s pots and pans as instruments and to become a professional drummer. Today, he plays with the Agave Brothers, a local band.


: Russell Pierce’s portrait of a young David Hockney helped him win this year’s Seven Degrees of Inspiration grant.
: Russell Pierce’s portrait of a young David Hockney helped him win this year’s Seven Degrees of Inspiration grant.

The portraits are part of a proposal that won Pierce the $5,000 Seven-Degrees of Inspiration Award in partnership with the Laguna Beach Arts Alliance. The organization holds its 10th annual Art Star Awards on Sunday, April 3, at Seven Degrees, 891 Laguna Canyon Road, where Pierce and winners in five other categories will receive their awards. He is required to unveil his completed project at next year’s ceremony.

As part of the project, Pierce will also create digital plaques containing biographical information on each portrait subject.

“I am very exploratory in my art and will produce a number of pieces in diverse styles,” explained Pierce, who has transitioned from graphic design to fine art. “Getting the grant is a huge step and one that validates the new steps I am taking.”

Pierce, 60, still works as a graphic designer and art director during the day, but dedicates nights to making art just for himself.

“I had applied for the Inspiration Award last year and the year before but I did not have as strong a concept then. One night it just clicked for me,” he said.

Art Star Committee Chairman Wayne Baglin described the project as unique and praised Pierce’s incorporation of technology to appeal to diverse audiences.

Previous winners have included established and emerging artists including sculptors, film makers, glass blowers, musicians and choreographers.


Russell Pierce’s self-portrait.
Russell Pierce’s self-portrait.

Glass blower John Barber received his award four years ago to create “Feeding Frenzy,” a colorful school of fish installed in a Seven-Degree building. Designed to call attention to the environmental challenges of marine live, Barber said that it allowed him to demonstrate the breadth of his medium. “People are still viewing the work and it has enabled me to seek projects in contemporary architectural projects,” he said.

For his part, Pierce said, “I would love for people to be blown away when they walk into the gallery, seeing all these portraits of well-known people, each engaging in a unique way, capturing their spirit.” If he achieves his aim to render the portraits in a diverse array of styles that suggest a group show by several artists, he will have achieved an important goal.


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