Brian Pier: Constructing a Painter’s Life

After Brian Pier spent 25 years working in construction, nobody expected him to become a painter – least of all himself. When he picked up a paintbrush at age 56, “everybody was kind of surprised. I was surprised,” said Pier, who was once a heavy-equipment operator in Libertyville, Illinois.

Now, about 13 years after he started painting, he has his own shop – Brian Pier Gallery & Studio – in the Top of the Hill Shops in Fish Creek. And on Sept. 19, he received notification that six of his paintings had earned honors in the American Art Awards, a Hollywood-based international contest that received submissions from artists in 70 countries.

Pier’s oil paintings “Last Light Bayfield, Wisconsin” and “Harbor Sunset” tied for third in the impressionism category. In the realism or impressionism landscape with life category, his “Rainy Day” and “Autumn Sunlight” tied for second, and “Lingering Light” and “Ahnapee and Western Railroad” took third and sixth places, respectively.

The secret to his success? Pier couldn’t tell you.

“When I paint, I know I create, but I don’t know how I do it,” he said.

“Autumn Sunlight” by Brian Pier.

Still, he knows he’s gotten good at it because the American Art Awards accolades aren’t the only ones he’s received. In 2010, his art appeared in a gallery in New York, and three years later, he exhibited in Florence, Italy. By 2016, the Huffington Post had named him as one of the world’s six best human impressionist artists. 

“It’s a great second career,” Pier said. “A lot of people dream of something like this, and I was able to realize it.”

While working in construction, he never had enough time to paint, though he always knew he was good at drawing. As he drew closer to retirement, he made time to pick up painting, and when his fast success made him realize he could turn his hobby into a career, he retired early from his construction job at age 58. 

Though Pier studied the greats of impressionism such as Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, he never took a painting class. He just seemed to have a knack for it, and after he started painting, he said he “got really good, really quick.” Noticing his skill made him want to paint more and more.

Now he paints every day, using some of his projects to express himself and others to challenge his skills as an artist. Pier finds that one of the hardest parts of painting is figuring out what to paint, but after moving to Door County about eight years ago, he’s found inspiration all around him – in the streets of Fish Creek, the buildings of Ephraim and the tugboats in Sturgeon Bay. Living on a peninsula is also an asset because waterside scenes are some of his favorites to paint.

As a construction worker, Pier had no idea he would later pick up painting as a hobby, much less as a successful career, but he’s glad he did.

“If I could have just sold some work here and there out of the gallery, I would have been satisfied with that,” Pier said. “But it’s worked out even better.”

“Harbor Sunset” by Brian Pier.

Related Organizations