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The Life of Objects: Roy Bigler & Terry Durst

May 19, 2022 @ 5:30 pm - June 25, 2022 @ 5:30 pm

  • Terry Durst, The Parakeet Always Called Oscar into Lunch, 2000, Mixed media assemblage, 25 x 20”, Collection of the AAWR
    Terry Durst, The Parakeet Always Called Oscar In To Lunch, 2000, Mixed media assemblage, 25 x 20”, Collection of the AAWR

In-Person Opening Reception: Thursday, May 19, 5:30 – 8:00pm. FREE. No registration required

Virtual Program: Tremont Vanguards: Wednesday, June 15, 7:00 – 8:00pm on Zoom. REGISTER ON ZOOM


There’s a certain sharpness to the Rust Belt – one forged out of our industrial past and the ensuing decades spent forming and reforming our identity from the pieces left behind. Far from a flaw, it fuels our creativity, and perhaps no medium captures this drive to repurpose and redefine more than assemblage. Whether it’s the abundance of raw materials, or an innate desire to summon beauty out of salvage, Northeast Ohio is host to a wealth of assemblage artists that call the region home.


In May, the Artists Archives will host The Life of Objects, the inaugural exhibition of Roy Bigler & Terry Durst, two artists who use found objects to peel back the layers of their own complex psyches and society at large. Though both craft narratives out of cultural detritus, their work represents almost polar treatments of memory and space.


Artist Roy Bigler (1955 – 2014) graduated with a BFA from Kent State University in 1984 alongside many of the artists who would become staples of Cleveland’s experimental art scene in the 90s. During his time at Kent, Bigler was deeply influenced by the work of the Dada and Fluxus movements and participated in “mail art exchanges” which furnished him with a steady supply of mysterious, mass-produced trinkets, shipped anonymously to his door.


Bigler would later employ the rigid borders of his sculptures to contain and document these artifacts of modern life. Using plaque-like mounts, or tightly wrapped parcels as bases, the artist combines psychologically charged bits of ephemera to suggest oblique and sardonic relationships between history, nostalgia, and consumer culture. Often objects appear in test tubes, or behind glass, reminiscent of Victorian museum displays which pinned and labeled the natural world to control its chaos.


In his mixed media piece, Guided Missile, Bigler’s compulsion to catalog is evocatively applied to the terrors of the Cold War. Constructed on waxed and painted canvas, the sculpture’s surface resembles the algae-coated hull of an outmoded submarine. A Russian newspaper clipping, capturing a ballistic missile exploding in a watery inlet, dominates the piece. Below, a tiny firework in a vial is riveted and a dried seahorse stares with empty sockets from clear dome, accompanied by plastic beads reading “SS23”, the NATO reporting code for the weapon deployed. The result is a somber study of man’s destruction, impossibly isolated for our inspection.


In another series of sculptures, Bigler uses cigar boxes to preserve snippets of time. Known collectively as “Time Capsule Boxes,” the containers are filled with carefully selected objects ranging from children’s brightly foiled Easter candy, to test tubes of ash and human hair. Bigler would also present items wrapped as gifts- never intended to be opened. As Bigler describes, “It’s a way of making something everyday into something very special… To take an object(s) that would otherwise be destroyed and lost and prepare it as a gift! The intention is to not open the package – but if the package were to be opened, how interesting can one make the discarded object…. I collect, organize, separate, take account…take stock in available materials. Ultimately, I want to know what happens when one thing is placed in, near, around something else?”


Far from wanting to contain chaos, artist Terry Durst crafts his sculptures as conduits for the world’s frenetic energy. Referred to by critic Frank Green as “one of Cleveland’s most interesting sculptors,” Durst is known for his confrontational aesthetic and immersive, cinematic narratives. Though often large in scale, the sculptures are alarming in their intimacy; they create a profound sense of discomfort, as if approached too closely, one might become infected with the memories they emit.


Like Bigler, Durst was also a graduate of Kent State University’s School of Art. While initially torn between film and sculpture, he ultimately chose the latter because of the ability to work independently, reflecting that “making film was expensive and involved a lot of people.” Durst too felt the immutable pull of objects in his work. “I kept attaching things to the canvas and was never satisfied with just the two-dimensional surface. Moving into sculpture I realized that the raw materials I most enjoyed working with were objects that already had a history behind them. Objects that exude decrepitude and decay…My only motive is to follow the imagery I receive…I try to create a realm with each piece, something that is a world unto itself.”


This creation of worlds is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in “The Parakeet Always Called Oscar In To Lunch.” Composed in a palette of faded turquoise and royal blue, the sculpture is presented in a shine-like frame of metal tubing. A knife divides the center of the piece, and a plastic parakeet stands sentinel on a painted perch. One wonders, did Oscar ever have a real bird? Or did it die, and this is a substitute? Perhaps, was it always plastic, and only spoke in Oscar’s mind? The implications are endless, and moreover, open ended, as we are left to interpret the lonely scene.


As Durst explains, “Often the result [when I create a piece] is a metaphor for an experience, or for an emotion. Ultimately, I’d much rather express an aura, or a feeling, and maybe a memory, than a platitude or piece of social criticism. I feel that my job as an artist is to investigate myself, those parts of me that I would otherwise never access. Of course, I hope through this investigation something universal will emerge.”


The Life of Objects: Roy Bigler & Terry Durst opens Thursday, May 19 with an opening reception from 5:30 – 8:00pm and will be on view until June 25th. No reservations needed. For additional information on the artists and a preview of the exhibition, visit artistsarchives.org


To accompany the exhibition, the Archives will host Tremont Vanguards, a moderated conversation about the original creative vanguards of the now thriving Tremont arts community. Led by Archives Executive Director Mindy Tousley, the discussion will include foundational Tremont artists Jeff Chiplis, Terry Durst, and Angelica Pozo, as well as Dr. Theresa Boyd, owner of the neighborhood’s creative cornerstone, Doubting Thomas Gallery. The program will be held on Zoom on Wednesday, June 15th, 7:00 – 8:00pm. REGISTER ON ZOOM


The Artists Archives of the Western Reserve is handicap accessible and is willing to accommodate all people including those with special needs. Visitors with special needs are encouraged to contact us before coming to AAWR, so that we can ensure your visit is fulfilling and enjoyable.  View available services. To schedule your visit, please call 216-721-9020 or email info@artistsarchives.org



May 19, 2022 @ 5:30 pm
June 25, 2022 @ 5:30 pm
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Artists Archives of the Western Reserve
1834 E. 123rd St.
Cleveland, 44106-1910 United States
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