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Oakland exhibition opens for glass artist inspired by her environment

| Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, 6:23 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
'Reel', a part of 'Gravitational Pull' exhibit by Megan Biddle, on display at Pittsburgh Filmmakers in North Oakland.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
'Collected Landscapes', a part of 'Gravitational Pull' exhibit by Megan Biddle, on display at Pittsburgh Filmmakers in North Oakland.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Detail of 'Reel', a part of 'Gravitational Pull' exhibit by Megan Biddle, on display at Pittsburgh Filmmakers in North Oakland.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
'Swelll 3', a part of 'Gravitational Pull' exhibit by Megan Biddle, on display at Pittsburgh Filmmakers in North Oakland.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
'Superorganism', a part of 'Gravitational Pull' exhibit by Megan Biddle, on display at Pittsburgh Filmmakers in North Oakland.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
'Untitled (fragments)l', a part of 'Gravitational Pull' exhibit by Megan Biddle, on display at Pittsburgh Filmmakers in North Oakland.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Detail of 'Superorganism', a part of 'Gravitational Pull' exhibit by Megan Biddle, on display at Pittsburgh Filmmakers in North Oakland.

Megan Biddle's solo exhibition, “Gravitational Pull,” on display at Pittsburgh Filmmakers Galleries, is aptly titled. The first work visitors will come to, “Reel,” will no doubt pull them into the sublime experience Biddle has created.

A wall installation made of a near 15-foot expanse of curved steel rods mounted to one wall, “Reel” is at once permanent and flowing. Having an obvious connection to nature, it looks like wind-blown grass moving across a field.

The association is not one Biddle would find unusual.

“My inspiration comes from the sublime quality of naturally occurring phenomena,” she says. “I am continually fascinated with how things grow, form and aggregate.”

Based in Philadelphia, where she is an adjunct instructor at Temple University's Tyler School of Art, Biddle received her bachelor of fine arts in glass from the Rhode Island School of Design and her master of fine arts from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts. She has exhibited at national and international venues, including Columbus, Ohio; Richmond, Va., New York City; the Czech Republic; and Iceland. Her work has been published in “New Glass Review” and was recently acquired for the American embassy's permanent collection in Riga, Latvia.

If we are the sum of our experiences, then this exhibit exemplifies that notion. Biddle has been fortunate enough to partake in a number of artist residencies over the past few years, and each piece is representative of those experiences.

“The pieces were all conceived at different artist residencies in somewhat remote parts of the Northeast, Northwest and Scotland,” Biddle says. “These landscapes had a great effect on me, and I filtered my observations into the work.”

Take, for example, the piece “Superorganism.” It's a spherical work made of cast glass that was inspired by lichens Biddle discovered while partaking in a kiln-casting residency at the Northlands Creative Glass Centre in Lybster, Scotland. “There is an amazing diversity of lichens in Scotland,” she says.

Made from glass tubes, blown, cut and fused together in multiples, it's an odd but interesting object, which, depending on the angle viewed, has a finish ranging from opaque to cloudy to transparent.

Especially fascinating is a cast-glass sphere titled “Untitled (fragments).” The result of an emerging artist residency in 2011 at the famed Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Wash., it was cast from many shards of scrap glass Biddle collected at the school. Arranged in a ball formation, the final casting has been sandblasted to give it a dull, but icelike, appearance.

In this way, by using throwaway material as inspiration for her works, Biddle follows the contemporary-art tradition, first proposed by Marcel Duchamp in the early 20th century, of using found objects as inspiration or as the artworks themselves. These works then remind us of their source and their status as disposable materials and waste products, and they are as much about place, as in where they came from, as they are about anything else.

Toward the rear of the gallery, a grouping of untitled black-and-white ink drawings depict what Biddle calls “Collected Landscapes.” They were created while partaking in an open studio residency earlier this year at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle, Maine.

“These were daily observations gathered from having time to take in the subtle details of this specific environment, which was covered in layers of lichen, moss and salt,” Biddle says in regard to the 16 ink-wash drawings arranged in a perfect grid.

A trio of similar drawings — “Swell 1, 2 and 3” — hangs nearby. Here, Biddle takes full advantage of tidal pooling, which is an effect that brings pigment to the edge of an area heavily saturated with water-based media when it slowly dries. It's an effect that represents natural phenomena as much as it is a result of it. Thus, like in vanitas paintings, with these works Biddle contemplates both nature and nature's impermanence.

Though the exhibit seems sparse in terms of the amount of work on display in a rather large space, it's a stunning show, with the lighting making wonderful shadows and creating additional forms. And the materials Biddle employs are, in their own way, magical.

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kshaw@tribweb.com.

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