b Louisville, Kentucky 1990
Megan Bickel is an artist, writer, and educator currently working out of Louisville, Kentucky. Her work considers and utilizes various approaches and technologies such as painting, data manipulation, digital collage, database reconfiguration, and poetry. Bickel’s work has been exhibited at the Speed Art Museum (Louisville, KY), University of Chicago Logan Center (Chicago, IL), LADIES ROOM LA (Los Angeles, California), KMAC Museum (Louisville, KY), Georgetown College (Georgetown, KY), QUAPPI Projects (Louisville, KY), Art Academy of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, Oh), and MADS Mixed Reality Gallery (Milan, Italy).
She is the founder and organizer of houseguest gallery (since 2018) and has had fiction and arts criticism published nationally. She is a regular contributor to Ruckus, NEWCITY, and Sixty-Inches from Center. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Louisville, Bellarmine, and Indiana University Southeast where she teaches Painting, Video Production, and Web Design. Bickel recently received her Master of Arts in Digital Studies in Language, Culture, and History at the University of Chicago. Her thesis research assessed how Google Vision API and other related APIs would impact the fate of climate reporting due to their current labeling production design. She is currently working on expanding this data set and expanding the research into a book with coauthor Joseph Solis.
She received her MFA from the University of Louisville with Honors in 2021.
"I make objects, paintings, and videos that abstract or oscillate between announcing and concealing meaning. The resulting work cultivates unserious fields of imagery and installations that interrogate what it means to be visually critical in the 2020s and the future. I do this to playfully mimic, mock, and question the American confrontation between the public and the intertwined spectacle of journalism, political science, advertising, and propaganda. This is done by using the visual language (mark-making) associated with Post-Digital Painting and Casualism, two painterly modalities that question(ed) the ethically fraught relationships between military technologies (specifically digital and screen technologies) and Paintings’ relationship to the economy." -- Megan Bickel
2022 The University of Chicago, Master of Arts in Digital Studies of Language, Culture, and History Mental Health First Aid Instructor Certificate–National Council for Mental Wellbeing– facilitated by the University of Chicago.
2021 University of Louisville. Master of Fine Arts Studio Art and Design.
2012 Art Academy of Cincinnati. Bachelor of Fine Arts, Painting, Cum Laude.
SOLO AND TWO-PERSON EXHIBITIONS
2023 Upcoming: Race Car Factory, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Upcoming: Surface Noise, Louisville Kentucky
2022 again I put all my hope in dirt and wood, basketshop gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio. January
2021 but also full of seeds for a future that could have turned out differently. MFA Gallery. Hite Art Institute, University of Louisville. March
2020 What They Said In Public, Georgetown College. Lexington, Kentucky. March.
of an event; assigned a date that is too early. Bunk Gallery. Cincinnati, Ohio. January
2019 _we_are_inside_the_fire_, Quappi Projects. Louisville, Kentucky.
PLAY THAT ONE BACK, JOHNNY. Megan Bickel and Louis A. Edwards. Erie Art Gallery. Erie, Pennsylvania
2018 hope is grounded in memory. Hyland Gallery. Louisville, Kentucky
2015 Just Be Nice. Westheimer Gallery / Sharonville Cultural Arts Center, Cincinnati, Ohio
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
2023 Rounding the Circle: The Mary and Al Shands Collection. Speed Art Museum. Louisville, KY
2022 GARDEN. Ladies Room Gallery. LA, California.
PRETTY PERV. MADS Mixed Reality Gallery. Milan, Italy.
Through the Mirage. Curated by Nicholas Dietrich. The Fitzrovia Gallery. London, UK.
2021 40 Years KMAC Museum: Reflect, Reframe, Remake, Remodel. KMAC Museum. Louisville, Kentucky.
The Shands Collection: New Directions. Curated by Julien Robson. Quappi Projects. Louisville, Kentucky.
2020 A(artistic) x (I)nteresting x (P)owerful. curated by Steve Kemple, Lindsey Whittle, and Loraine Wible, in conjunction with an A.I. Art Academy of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Ohio.
2019 Mental Misconceptions. Schneider Gallery. Allen R. Hite Art Institute. University of Louisville. Louisville, Kentucky
She’s Silver and Orange 4. Tim Faulkner Gallery. Louisville, Kentucky
2018 Transmissions: The Art of Communicating. Hyland Gallery. Louisville, Kentucky
MFA Inaugural Exhibition. Rowan MFA Building. University of Louisville. Louisville, Kentucky
Future is Now. 849 Gallery / Kentucky College of Art and Design, Louisville, Kentucky.
Open to Interpretation: An Abstract Invitational Exhibit. Community Arts Center of Danville, Kentucky.
2017 Structural Layers. Buckham Gallery. Flint, Michigan
2016 Abstract Expressionism. Linus Galleries. L.A., California
2015 Modes of Abstraction. University of Cincinnati / Blue Ash Gallery. Cincinnati, Ohio
2012 Past is Prologue. Harvest Gallery. Cincinnati, Ohio
2010 Et Merda. Semantics. Cincinnati, Ohio
EXHIBITIONS/curator or organizer
2022 In The Weeds: Camouflage and Its Discontents. houseguest gallery. Louisville, Kentucky.
2021 Wandering Home. Alivia Blade. houseguest gallery. Louisville, Kentucky. The Same Thing From A Distance. Liam Ze’ev O’Connor. houseguest gallery. Louisville, Kentucky
Virtual Paradise. Jen Dwyer and Gracelee Lawrence, curated by Samantha Simpson. houseguest gallery. Louisville, Kentucky
Place. Lindsey Dezman. houseguest gallery. (YARDSIDE) Louisville, Kentucky.
2020 Popsicle Energy | collaborative works by Katie Hargrave and Meredith Lynn. houseguest gallery (YARDSIDE) Louisville, Kentucky.
Industry Fossils and Germinating Sunshine. Kiah Celeste and Mariel Gardner. houseguest gallery (YARDSIDE) Louisville, Kentucky.
the one-pagers. houseguest gallery. Louisville, Kentucky
Femme Maison. Mychaelyn Michalec and Karen Weeks. houseguest gallery. Louisville, Kentucky
2019 numinous low road; numinous hall (retrospectives on change). Charles Rivera. houseguest gallery. Louisville, Kentucky
(organized) From My Friends (with a little help) | curator Benjamin Cook. for artist list refer to houseguest gallery. Louisville, Kentucky
(organized) Resident | curator Jessica Oberdick | artist Renzo Velez. houseguest gallery. Louisville, Kentucky
(organized) Liminal Form | curator Kevin Warth | artists Jake Ford and S.N. Parks. houseguest gallery. Louisville, Kentucky
(organized) The Monster’s House | curator Abby Mae Friend | houseguest gallery. Louisville, Kentucky
2018 The Private World of a Fold | Rebecca Norton. houseguest gallery. Louisville, Kentucky
The Good American | Noah Howard and Darrin Milliner. houseguest gallery. Louisville, Kentucky
The Memory Closet | Amelia Briggs. houseguest gallery. Louisville, Kentucky
All That I Am is Grateful | Alyson Davies and Pez Jones. houseguest gallery. Louisville, Kentucky
Model Unit | team b. houseguest gallery. Louisville, Kentucky
always feeling as if their mind moved much too quickly to keep up with | Nina Kersey. houseguest gallery. Louisville, Kentucky
2023 Part-Time Lecturer, Drawing (Introduction and Intermediate), Web Design. Bellarmine University, Louisville, KY, Fall 2023
Part-Time, Intro to Painting, Indiana University Southeast. New Albany, Indiana. Fall 2023.
Part-Time Lecturer, Intro / Adv Painting & Experimental Video. Georgetown College. Spring ‘23
Part-Time Lecturer, Studio Art & Visual Culture, Introduction to Painting. Hite Institute of Art & Design at University of Louisville. Spring ‘23
2022 Visiting Lecturer, Introduction to Painting & Foundations Drawing. Hite Institute of Art & Design at the University of Louisville. Fall 2022
2021 Student Technician for. Wood / Metal Shop & Gallery Preparation, The Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, The University of Chicago.
Student Technician for. Media, Arts, Data, & Design Center in John Crerar Library for Computer Science The University of Chicago.
Instructor of Record. University of Louisville: 2D Design Foundations, Studio Art and Visual Culture. Foundations Concepts and Methods. Organizer and Curator, houseguest Gallery. Louisville, Kentucky 2017-Present
Transcriptionist and Producer. The Conversation: an Artist Podcast. Los Angeles, California. (remote) 2018- 2020
Louisville / Lexington contributor to AEQAI: The Publication. 2017- 2021
2017 Instructor for Louisville Visual Art Programming. Louisville, Kentucky. 2017-2019.
2014 Gallery Coordinator, Curator. Sharonville Cultural Arts Center. 2014-2016.
Community Education Instructor (ages 5-18, college prep, and adult courses). Art Academy of Cincinnati. Sharonville Cultural Arts Center. 2014-2016.
LECTURES and PAPER PRESENTATIONS
2022 Visiting Curator. Capstone Thesis, Studio Art. Kentucky College of Art and Design
Visiting Critic. Graduate Seminars led by Mary Carothers at University of Louisville
“Climate Storytelling and Google Vision API.” Feminist Digital Methods Conference. York University’s Centre for Feminist Research. August 2022 “Science Fiction, Future Memory, and Effective Digital Solastalgia.” Research in Visual Evidence (RAVE) Presentation. Department of Art History at The University of Chicago. April 2022
Workshop on Stretcher Building. Logan Center Wood Shop, The University of Chicago. January-March, 2022.
2020 “Casualist and Post-Digital Painting in the 21st Century and Razzle Dazzle Camouflage during World War I” Department of Visual Art and Design at Georgetown College, Kentucky. February 2020.
OTHER / AWARDS
2021 Graduate Student Council. DIGS Representative. University of Chicago. 2021-2022. Burnaway Arts Writing Incubator, Class of 2021.
Hite Art Institute Exceptional Graduate Student Award, Louisville, Kentucky
2020 Dario A Covi Award. Hite Art Institute. University of Louisville.Louisville, Kentucky.
Professional Development Grant. 2021 Fate Conference.
Professional Development Grant. 2020 SECAC Conference.
Society For Collegiate Leadership and Achievement, University of Louisville Chapter.
Graduate Representative, United Nations Association (Women’s League), University of Louisville Chapter. 2019-Present
Docent, KMAC Museum. Louisville, Kentucky. 2018-2020
Secretary, Executive Board Member. Squallis Puppeteers. Louisville, Kentucky. 2017-2021
2019 Graduate Student Council, Fine Arts Representative, Research Selection Committee. University of Louisville. Louisville, Kentucky. 2018-2019.
2012 Presenter at Third Annual Dr. Jonathon Riess Annual Undergraduate Art History Colloquium at University of Cincinnati. Cincinnati, Ohio.
2011 Academic Internship Study with Bill Seitz, Curator, The Carnegie. Covington, Kentucky.
2023 “Now a Union is Filing a Charge” from _we_are_inside_the_fire_ KMAC Museum. Louisville, KY.
2020 “Bloomberg Offers Trump Ten Million Dollars to Leave the White House by the End of the Day.”(2019) Collection of John Brooks and Erik Eaker
“You’re Put in a Place Where Everyone Has the Same Delusion.” (2019) Collection of Letitia Quesenberry.
“There Was No Template for His Perceptions” from _we_are_inside_the_fire_. Collection of Dr. Lauren Freeman and Dr. Andreas Elpidorou.
“Now a Union is Filing a Charge” from _we_are_inside_the_fire_ Al Shands / Great Meadows Foundation.
2017 Two works from Just Be Nice. Chip Finke / Graydon Law. Cincinnati, Ohio
2015 Two works from Senior Thesis Exhibition (2012). Art Academy of Cincinnati
2021 “Wandering Home.” Jessica Oberdick. Ruckus: Critical Art Review in Louisville, Kentucky
“Industry Fossils & Germinating Sunshine.” Tatiana Ryckman. Ruckus: Critical Art Review in Louisville, Kentucky.
2020 “Femme Maison.” Anna Blake. Ruckus: Critical Art Review in Louisville, Kentucky.
“Textile Show at Louisville’s houseguest Gallery Explores Technology and Motherhood.”
Natalie Weis. Fresh Air and WFPL, NPR .Louisville, Kentucky.
2019 “numinous low road; numinous hall (retrospectives on change).”Hunter Kissel. Ruckus: Critical Art Review in Louisville, Kentucky.
2018 “The Good American”. Jessica Oberdick. Ruckus: Critical Art Review in Louisville, Kentucky.
“The Memory Closet”. Kevin Warth. Ruckus: Critical Art Review in Louisville, Kentucky.
“Model Unit + Interview with Megan Bickel of houseguest”. Kevin Warth. Ruckus: Critical Art Review in Louisville, Kentucky.
2020 “Louisville Visual Artist Megan Bickel Works With Synthetic Materials, Confused Identities.” Tatiana Ryckman. WFPL, NPR Louisville Syndicate. Louisville, Kentucky.
“Gerhard Richter Meets Lisa Frank in Louisville-Based Multidisciplinary Artist Megan Bickel's Solo Bunk Spot Gallery Exhibition.” Steve Kemple. Citybeat. Cincinnati, Ohio.
2019 “_we_are_inside_the_fire_”. Ginger, Issue 19. Jacqueline Cantu, and Markee Speyer. Chicago / Bushwick.
“Open Studio Weekend Spotlight with Megan Bickel.” Keith Waits.Artebella. Louisville Visual Art. Louisville, Kentucky.
“Megan Bickel: Texture Study.” Werks: International Contemporary Art. Chicago, Illinois. issue 2.
2018 “Artists to Collect: Megan Bickel”. Claudia Eng. 10011 Magazine in partnership with Claudia Eng Gallery. New York, New York.
Artist Interview. @pulpit.contemporary.art. Louisville, Kentucky
“hope is grounded in memory”. Mary Clore. Ruckus: Critical Art Review in Louisville, Kentucky.
2017 PUBLIC with Keith Waits. Interview for Louisville Visual Art at ArtxFM.
2015 “Artist Visualizes Social Anxiety”. cincinnati.com.
2012 “Art: Past is Present”. CityBeat. Alan Pocaro.
“Places with a Past: New Site-Specific Art in Charleston’s Spoleto Festival”. Incliner.
WRITTEN WORK: ESSAYS / INTERVIEWS / ARTS CRITICISM
2022 “Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground.” Ruckus.
“A Review of Artist Run Spaces at the Contemporary Art Center, Cincinnati.” Sixty Inches from Center. Chicago, IL.
Contributing Critic to NewCity, Chicago IL.
“Immersive Delight: In Nick Cave’s First Retrospective, the Artist Dares Us to Dream.” NewCity. Chicago, IL
“Soft Tread” Ruckus Louisville. Louisville, Kentucky
Heather Jones: Appalachian Geometry and Womanist Labor in Storytellers. Presented alongside exhibitions of solo exhibitions by Odili Donald Odita and Jeffrey Gibson. Essay for Contemporary Dayton. January
2021 Jordan Nassar. “The Field is Infinite at KMAC Museum. SECAC Journal. Fall 2021.
“Olly Olly Oxen Free.” Ruckus Louisville. Louisville, Kentucky.
“Rebecca Norton: Q&A.” Ruckus Louisville. Louisville, Kentucky.
2020 “Q&A: Kiah Celeste and Material Agency.” Aeqai. Cincinnati, Ohio.
Tala Madani and her Théâtre de la Cruauté in Projections.Aeqai. Cincinnati, Ohio
The Double Standard and The Drawing Room within Perrotin A Quick Examination of
Genesis Belanger & Emily Mae Smith Cincinnati, Ohio
ALL THINGS ARE DELICATELY INTERCONNECTED: Jenny Holzer // Wanda Orme Earth Day and COVID-19 Cincinnati, Ohio
Your Past Needs You: “Cat Mummies Came First” at Sheherazade Cincinnati, Ohio
“We Don’t Have Anesthesia But We Have Music. . .” Feras Fayyad’s “The Cave” (2019) at Speed Museum Cinema Aeqai, Cincinnati, Ohio
“All the Useless Things Are Mine: A Book of Seventeens.” Ruckus Louisville. Louisville, Kentucky.
2019 September Diencephalon at Institute 193 Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio Letitia Quesenberry at Quappi Projects (((heat))) Louisville, Kentucky August 2nd – September 6th, 2019 Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
Conspiratorial Aesthetics at the Cressman Center for Visual Arts: Why does so much new art look conspiratorial? Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
Picasso to Pollock: Modern Masterworks from the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University at the Speed Art Museum Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
2018 Keltie Ferris: *O*P*E*N* at the Speed Art Museum: Casualist Painting / Not-cAsual SetTing Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
donottellmewhereibelong: drawing and sculpture by Joan Tanner Curated by Julien Robson Cressman Center for Visual Arts / Hite Art Institute / Department of Fine Arts / University of Louisville Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio Benjamin Cook: History Abridged at Swanson Contemporary, Louisville, Kentucky August 15th – September 22nd Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
Artist Interview for Aeqai: Megan Bickel interviews Photographer, Bill Daniel Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
Critical Mass II // Critical Discourse and Engagement in Kentucky Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
Sweet Dreams // Sheherazade // Louisville KY Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
Nick Cave: FEAT. // The Frist Center for Visual Art // Nashville, Tennesse Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
A Brief Elaboration of a Tube: Letita Quesenberry and Aaron Rosenblum at Huff Gallery (Spalding University) Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
BRUCE CONNER: FOREVER AND EVER // Speed Art Museum Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio Failure in Progress // Zephyr Gallery Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
Team B Architecture and Design Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
2017 Gibbs Rounsavall
Paul Mpagi Sepuya: Portraits / Positions In Conjunction with the Louisville Biennial Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
Poetry in Bars and Other Solutions Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
99 Cents or Less // MOCAD Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
Southern Elegy: The Stephen Reily Collection // Speed Museum at University of Louisville Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft // The Drawing Center: “Thread Lines” Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
Maxime Van Melkebeke Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
Zephyr Gallery: Project 17: Ritual Geography Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
Fern Canyon: Paintings by Claire Sherman at the KMAC Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
Painting in the Network: Algorithm and Appropriation at University of Louisville’s
Cressman Center for the Arts Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
Paige Williams Aeqai Cincinnati, Ohio
2020 Kentucky Foundation for Women, Hopscotch House Residency. Prospect, Kentucky
Printmaking Artist in Residence. Eastern Illinois University. Illinois. 2019 Project 1612. Peoria, Illinois.
10 Questions with Megan Bickel
- Outside of art, what hobbies do you have, or how do you like to spend your free time?
I've powerlifted for a couple of years now. However, it's a hobby that definitely ebbs and flows with my schedule. I really enjoy walking my dogs, making a mess in my garden, riding my bike, spending time with my partner and friends, running slowly, hiking, and sleeping.
- What do you like to listen to while working in your studio?
I used to listen to the news or hip hop or punk music, usually, but I've lately found it kind of overstimulating and have enjoyed just having Louisville's 90.5 WUOL Classical station on in the background. I have also really enjoyed listening to the Machine Ethics podcast. . . whilst I'm collecting digital photos.
- Do you have any pets?
I've got three dogs and a cat, but a stray cat that I refer to as Bandit has recently decided that I am to feed and pet her every day, as well as worry about her when the weather is poor; so I suppose I have two cats.
- What is your favorite book?
I'm not sure if I have a favorite, but I think that the author that stands out to me is Loren Eiseley. He was an anthropologist, philosopher, nature and science writer, and educator who wrote what I guess would be quasi-science fiction. His prose and adoration of natural mysteries (though now pleasurably out of date) has greatly impacted my aesthetics. I'd highly suggest reading The Unexpected Universe (1964, I think).
- Do you have a personal motto, mantra, or philosophy on life?
So, I have this copy of Space Settlements by Fred Scharmen that I bought at, I think, the gift shop at the Chicago Cultural Center maybe 8 years ago. It's a fascinating book; it goes into the 'Summer Studies' that were conducted at the NASA Ames Research Center in the 1970's, which was a well funded effort meant to find and design architecture for advanced space colonization. It resulted in not a whole lot other than some gorgeous paintings by Rick Guidice and Don Davis for the book titled the Whole Earth Catalogue and some really terrible ideas about being inclined to take all of outer space as ours. All of that is beside the point because there is a quote by Anne Herbert that reads:
"The sky starts at your feet. Think how brave you are to walk around."
And I wouldn't say it's a motto, but I just think it's so profoundly simple and lovely, and I have it everywhere now.
- What is one skill would you like to master?
I wish I was better at learning languages. It's something I've always struggled with. I've been trying to learn Korean for three years now, and I'm simply terrible.
- What is something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t tried yet?
Wake up in France.
- What is the best concert you’ve ever been to?
Sleater Kinney at Forecastle in 2006 or Adrianne Lenker at Bluebird in Bloomington, IN
- If you could time travel, would you go to the past or the future?
could I do both?
- What is the best advice someone has ever given you?
My father always said, "work should be play with a purpose," and I took that literally.
By Erica Peterson, Tatiana Ryckman
Published April 23, 2020 at 10:45 PM EDT
I arrive at the Hite Institute’s MFA building in the Portland neighborhood on a cold February morning. It’s been spring-like for weeks, and it’s surprising to see ice dotting the street. Megan Bickel is still in a winter coat and hat when she greets me at the door.
“I hate that it’s cold,” she said, “but at least the weather is the way it’s supposed to be.”
Bickel is an MFA candidate in painting and shows me to the chilly concrete room on the second story that will be her workspace until she graduates in 2021. There are artifacts of an artist’s life — drips on the floor and tubes of paint spread out on tables — but the space itself is tidy. Glittering synthetic materials are folded on shelves, and I recognize the work hanging on the walls from her recent show at Quappi Gallery on Market Street. Across the room there are clear receptacles, like small fish tanks, filled with water and tiny colorful dots — like that ice cream that advertises itself “ice cream of the future” — that are hard to look away from.
“This is spherified watercolor paint,” Bickel explains when I step closer to look at the curious beads. “Spherification started in physics — I couldn't articulate why or how they needed it, but they did, and some chef somewhere decided to use it to make fake caviar.”
The spheres are made by mixing sodium citrate, sodium algenate, xantham gum, water and are made colorful with watercolor paint.
“You drop it into a calcium chloride solution, and what happens is all the molecules get pressed together,” Bickel said, drawing some of this mixture into an eye dropper to demonstrate. The hot pink droplets congeal, or solidify, or spherify upon contact with the solution, and join a pile of pink and purple balls at the bottom of the container.
“This is just watercolor paint,” Bickel says, agitating the box. “There's no indication of the person that made it. But presented in different ways, it allows me to eliminate specific constructs of painting. You're interacting with all the symbols of painting, but it's not a painting. It confuses its identity as an object.”
Bickel’s more traditional paintings also have confused identities — holographic, digital, disorienting. In her show at Quappi, Bickel included a few paintings with corners of unstretched canvas that sagged, pushing the work toward sculpture. She had experimented with forgoing the structure or framing of a painting altogether, but returned to the rectangle because it provided a structure in which to challenge other ideas, and her work has not settled into something altogether familiar.
Bickel’s employment of reflective textiles, historical references, and shifting frames continue to put the viewer in a pleasantly disorienting space. This confusion is the key to much of Bickel’s work.
“[The paintings] are joyous,” Bickel said, “but my goal is to make it difficult for the viewer to find themselves in that space or find where their body can be.” Sort of, one might argue, like digital space.
Beyond their conceptual underpinnings, the materiality of the works have the alluring draw of a glowing screen and the vertiginous feeling of non-space. “It's an oscillation between planes,” Bickel said of her objectives in responding to the plastic materials she uses. “I try to accumulate so many layers that there's this undeniable sense of space, just because of the amount of material that’s layered up from the surface.”
“For example,” she says as she walks me over to a large canvas on a far wall, “in this piece I started with this gray sort of triangle. It's an attempt to interact with the textile and also cancel it out. From there there's a lot of color theory and playing around with mark-making that has happened from 1960 forward.”
“This corner down here,” she says, “is really de Kooning-esque, there's a lot of very masculine, abstract expressionist pushing and shoveling of the mark. And then these two and three-tone pre-blended marks are very post-digital, like interacting with hyperspace. This Titian pale hue here is very Manet for me.”
For Bickel, employing painting languages from throughout history becomes a conversation about time. A topic that concerns her in both art and life. In addition to painting on reptilian synthetics from big-box stores and spherifying paint in jars, Bickel is working on a science fiction short story that asks what future humans will think of what we’re leaving behind.
“If you think about ruins and how we have decided their value, it makes me wonder [how future generations will] value the things that we make [now]? What value will a Rothko have?”
But it’s not just a hierarchy of art that concerns Bickel. It’s also the glut — an unsustainable level of production and her own participation in it as an artist. Her use of synthetic textiles doesn’t just push against notions of painting, but against society at large, even as she implicates herself in the issue.
“Being someone who makes objects for a living concerns me,” she said. “I'm consistently producing part of the problem.” The material is also, essentially, trash. It is highly plastic, produced in large quantities, and thrown away at a high rate, none of which is lost on the artist.
“I sincerely wish that I was an artist that could work with organic materials,” Bickel said. “It's just never been fulfilling for me. It never felt genuine.”
Looking back at her dazzling canvases, materials she describes as haptic, Bickel said, “These textiles mimic something else. There's a deception. They're [used] for children's costuming or cos-play or drag outfits. It's about cultivating a different identity and shielding your interiority with that. I'm thinking a lot about illusion and allusion and what that means within the visual realm right now — the weight of mistruth and the weight of disregard for accuracy or scientific relevance.”
While these heavy ideas are the foundation of much of what the artist makes, Bickel acknowledges that to some extent, working with this strange fabric is just more fun than canvas. “Painting on canvas always felt like a one-sided relationship, where I'm doing all the work and this other entity isn’t contributing in the way that I need it to.” She gives a short, self-aware laugh and says, “which is hugely anthropomorphizing.”
Bickel’s inspiration comes from a wide range of sources, including other artists, prolific reading, the environmental and social issues that consume her, and the role of technology in them. But if plastics and the changing weather didn’t plague her conscience, she thinks she wouldn’t paint at all.
“If there aren't any problems,” she said with a laugh, “what am I going to complain about? I would just be a farmer.”
After a moment of reflection, she said, “Which begs the question, why don't I just do that now? But I don’t have an answer for that.”
Support for this story was provided in part by the Great Meadows Foundation.
“You’re Put in A Place Where Everyone Has The Same Delusion” by Megan Bickel, Acrylic on lycra with holographic inkjet print. 22x29in, 2019
Sometimes artists can speak quite well for themselves, with an Artist’s Statement of such depth and detail that it can be difficult to make any comment on the work in question without seeming at best redundant and at worst meaningless. Megan Bickel is a contemporary Renaissance woman, a multidisciplinary artist who writes and thinks with precision and clarity so that her very thoughtful words are arguably insightful enough to challenge the need for further observation. Of her work in her upcoming exhibit at Quappi Projects, Bickel writes on allusion and illusion:
“Being primarily literary, an allusion can be commonly articulated as an expression designed to call a subject to mind without mentioning it explicitly. It can appear as an indirect or passing reference. The author is allowed freedom in the expectation that the reader is aware of the reference made in the “allusion;" but as an object of literature, it provides safety or security for the reader in requesting the use of the readers’ imagination. Thus, the readers are limited to their own experience or consumption— they are safe to play in deception or truth, because they know the origin of the falsity provided by an allusion.
An illusion —of course—is a trick. Perhaps it appears as camouflage, or perhaps it appears in the process of convincing a viewer that they are witnessing something. It can also appear in the cultivating of a false belief, but however it appears the one in control of the creation of an illusion is the maker. An illusion can be as benign as an illusionistic still life, or as malignant as propaganda. No matter the moral positioning, the illusion is an object of convincing.”
You can read the full statement on her website, but Bickel appropriately places a burden of interpretative responsibility on the viewer before she concludes:
“Though my approach to media differs from object to object, I would generalize that this body of work utilizes haptic curiosity as a means with which to encourage visual, ethical, or empathic critique of contemporary media images. This skill of inviting curiosity into our daily consumption of images may become an important skill as we approach a period in history where we have to understand and decode how our images may be deceiving us— and just as quickly as we learn to create those deceptions.”
All of which seems to pose the question of how much trust we can place in Bickel’s images. Her work does not accommodate passivity, and we might go further and question the worth of any art that doesn’t provoke us to think differently.
Bickel is the embodiment of the restlessness of contemporary artists who are proactive in creating opportunities for themselves and others. In 2016 she co-created Five-Dots, a visual arts blog that covers the Midwest Region, and in 2017 she founded houseguest Gallery in Louisville, an example of the growing trend for non-traditional exhibition spaces. She most recently showed work in PLAY THAT ONE BACK, JOHNNY, Megan Bickel and Louis A. Edwards, Erie Art Gallery. Erie, Pennsylvania.
Bickel is an MFA candidate at the University of Louisville and will be participating in the Louisville Visual Art/ Hite Art Institute Open Studio Weekend November 2 and 3. She also is included in the Open Studio Weekend Juried Exhibit opening at U of L’s Cressman Center on November 1, 6-8pm.
Her new one-person show, We Are inside the Fire, runs November 15 through December 20 at Quappi Projects, 827 West Market Street in the NuLu neighborhood.
Education: University of Louisville, Master of Fine Arts Candidate, 2021
Art Academy of Cincinnati, BFA, Painting, Magna Cum Laude, 2012.