Artists and Curators Gather Good Things To Life

Artist Kim Schoel remembers her friend and colleague Roy Bigler as a constructive critic, who always strived to learn from others’ work and seek understanding.

“He was one of those rare people who would always find something positive to say. He was always respectful and curious,” Schoel said.

Bigler passed away in March of 2014, aged 58 years old. Since his passing, Schoel has been organizing an exhibition to honor him. Her work will finally come to fruition in Good Things to Life: The Art of Roy Bigler. The show opens December 8 at the galleries at Tri-C’s Eastern Campus.

Schoel met Bigler when they both were attending Kent State University. After they graduated (with Bigler taking a BFA in 1984), Schoel would eventually co-found Lakewood’s storied Dead Horse Gallery, alongside Mindy Tousley.

Bigler also moved north. He kept in touch with Schoel, and hung many shows at Dead Horse. At his day job, he served as assistant director at Gallery East at Cuyahoga Community College. He pursued his own artistic works, some of which were exhibited at Tri-C, the Akron Art Museum, SPACES Gallery, the Galleries at Cleveland State University, and the Sculpture Center.

The 1990s were his most active period of exhibition. In later years, he focused more of his energies advocating for social, environmental, and educational causes. Among his ventures were artistic interventions in Cleveland and Kent’s school districts, where he introduced students to the concepts of found art and assemblage, which figured prominently in his own productions.

“He opened up the idea about what could be art, because not everyone can draw,” said Jean Brandt, an attorney and former curator of the Brandt Gallery, where Bigler displayed and assembled shows.

With Good Things to Life: The Art of Roy Bigler, it is Schoel’s aim to recreate the ambiance of the artist’s personal work area in the exhibition space. The inclusion of pieces left unfinished at the time of his death will allow viewers a glimpse into his working process. Chief among the works on display will be Bigler’s found-object assemblages. These works are remarkable not only for their Lilliputian size—many of Bigler’s 3D collages are packed into cigar boxes—but for the meticulous detail of their organization.

“Nothing was left to chance. Everything was done with such love and dedication. You don’t see other people work in that fashion,” Schoel said.

One series of objects enlists cigar boxes to serve as time capsules for the dry goods of the last century—aspirin tins, packets of laxatives, a pocket abacus. Each piece is self-contained, but recurring themes and symbolism tempt viewers to treat the works as interconnected. In “Time Kapsule 4,” a Royal Jamaica cigar box is filled with Jakarta brand cigarettes, a pair of green dice, and a packet of Happy Bunny brand Easter egg dye. “Time Kapsule 5” contains a deck of playing cards, some candy, and Gypsy egg dye. In an unfinished and unnamed piece, a chocolate rabbit wrapped in gold smiles at viewers, and a yellow-dyed lucky rabbit’s foot dangles out of its frame, trompe l’oeil-style.

One wonders why rabbits and Easter recur. They could invoke Christianity, springtime rebirth, the Chinese zodiac, or beloved childhood memories of dyeing eggs. The piece from which the name of the exhibit is taken, “Good Things to Life,” encourages mystical interpretations. It consists of several objects fixed in a frame. In the top left corner, there is a small metal ankh, a cross which stood for life and the afterlife in ancient Egyptian symbolism. Beneath that and to the right, there is an ad for a General Electric refrigerator, in which the appliance stands in front of the great Sphinx at Giza.

Yet despite the subtle and unsubtle invocations of the supernatural, one is struck by the diversity of mundane things which caught Bigler’s eye. Different pieces contain teabags, cowrie shells, brushes, and pocket-sized board games from Chinatown. We are invited to either marvel at the profundity which can be glimpsed in handheld objects. Or, we are to understand the assemblages as new things-in-themselves, wholes more significant than the sum of their parts. In any case, the assemblages inspire curiosity about what meanings are there to be uncovered, or made.

Much of Bigler’s work that will be on display is on loan, so will not be available for sale. However, works by over 25 local artists paying tribute to Bigler will be available for purchase. Participating artists include Jane Baeslach, Jeff Chiplis, Terry Durst, Douglas Max Utter, and Beth Wolf.

Proceeds from the sale of art from Good Things to Life will go to the management of Bigler’s legacy. At the very least, Schoel hopes to submit his work to the Artists Archive of the Western Reserve for preservation. Depending on how much is raised, Schoel said a book on Bigler’s work might also be published, or a Tri-C scholarship could be established in his name.

Besides honoring Bigler, Schoel said she hopes the exhibit and related preservation efforts can provide a blueprint for the families and colleagues of other artists who pass away. Often, she said, the bereaved do not know what to do with a deceased creative person’s oeuvre.

“We’re trying to make a strong case for preserving the work of artists that die,” Schoel said.

Art would seem to be an ideal foundation to build a legacy upon. It consists of concrete objects, made with care and fine materials, and those who collect it strive to preserve it.

However, it’s not as simple as that. Music, performances, conceptual installations, and recitations of prose and poetry (all of which Bigler practiced) don’t endure. For the most part, neither do whole exhibitions, and the care which goes into curating and arranging them. (By all accounts, Bigler was an exemplary hanger of shows, and was as careful and considerate arranging other people’s works as he was when he made his own art).

But even tangible art items need care and curation. They need space to be stored in, but also the continued attention of viewers and researchers. This is what Schoel hopes to secure with Good Things to Life.

Good Things to Life: The Art of Roy Bigler.

December 8, 2015 – January 28, 2016

Opening reception: 6-9 pm Tuesday,  December 8

Closing reception / Auction: 4-9 pm Thursday January 28

Gallery East, Cuyahoga County Community College, Eastern Campus

4250 Richmond Road

EEC Bldg., Rm 135

Highland Hills, OH 44122