Bits 'n' Pieces: Painting the flow of waves and time

Ridgefield artist juxtaposes poetic sense of nature with scientific view of the world

By Ashley Swanson, Columbian features news coordinator

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Ridgefield artist Robert Bickel has painted his whole life, with periods of ebb and flow in activity. Bickel has been an architectural designer for 25 years. His work incorporates the familiar aesthetic of straight lines and geometric shapes against more abstract and natural forms.

"Some people take a glance at my work and think it's too cold and technical," Bickel said. "And other people are really drawn into it."

His goal is to build up a collection of artwork in hopes of getting into a major gallery in Portland, Seattle or San Francisco. Right now, he's in an editing phase, focused on making the message of his pieces "clearer," he said. "Art has to be somewhat mysterious, but it has to read to the viewer."

As an artist, Bickel is very much occupied by the message his work conveys.

His "Wave" and "Time" series of paintings showcase Bickel's attempt to juxtapose a poetic sense of nature against the scientific view of the world.

"I'm trying to in some ways express the physics of nature as well, instead of just exploring the beauty of nature. I'm trying to explore the beauty of science, trying to unravel the more scientific aspect of time, but it turns out to be kind of impossible."

It's only recently that Bickel returned to showing his work in galleries, with exhibitions in Portland, at Longview's Lower Columbia College and the Vancouver Organization for Contemporary Art.

He works on a "dozen or two" paintings at the same time, with about 60 to 70 paintings filling his home studio. "Nothings ever done, I've been working on some paintings for years," he said. There are layers upon layers of progress for some of his pieces. Working on a larger scale, Bickel constantly experiments with painting techniques, such as spray paint and thinning down his oils.

"I'm often surprised. One day I can think, 'Oh this really looks great,' and I like what I've done," he said. "Next morning, I wake up and it's, 'Oh, man. What was I thinking?'"

Bickel has been invited to be a judge for the Society of Washington Artists' Spring Show in May, though he's a bit reserved at the prospect.

"Public speaking is not my forte. I've made a point of avoiding it all my life," he said, adding that he's looking forward to the task.

"I decided that if I want to succeed in art, I have to do these things and get out their and expose myself to the larger community," he said.

Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, emailbits@columbian.com.