Magic and mystery in the art of Bill Meyer

Joel Oliphint
"The Three" by Bill Meyer

Years ago, Bill Meyer and his family moved to a house built on the last plat in the neighborhood. The backyard was wide open, and one day, while exploring the big field, he and his sons noticed little blue spheres about the size of marbles in a patch of dirt. They kept looking around the area and found more — 17 in all.

“These things are a beautiful cyan blue. You hold them up to the light and they're just gorgeous. They’re all made of the same material, and they weren't manufactured because they're all different sizes,” Meyer said. “Some have textures on them, and they’re obviously old. I don't know how they got there. I've never seen them before. I've taken them to gem shows and stuff, and people can’t really identify what they are. I had a friend of mine tell me they were old Indian marbles.”

Meyer referred to them as his “magic marbles,” and for a time he kept one in his pocket, reaching in and rubbing it occasionally. Some he kept in a red velvet bag in his basement, and others he gifted to friends. “I gave a couple of them away to people that I know, and I said, ‘Just hang on to that. Hold it. It's magical,’” Meyer said.

The cyan balls also began making their way into Meyer’s art, sometimes quite literally. In one group of small-scale clay works he called the “Protector” series, Meyer would glue the spheres directly onto the sculptures. Other times, the magic marbles show up in his pencil drawings, such as “Vision 3,” which is part of “Faces,” Meyer’s Studios on High Gallery exhibition that opens on Saturday, Sept. 5. In the graphite drawing, a tattooed, stylized face of a woman gazes at a floating orb. “Whenever you see one of those in most of my work, that's what those things are,” Meyer said.

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For a long while, Meyer’s work was confined to his day job as a graphic designer; he and his wife own a branding/digital company. (“In spite of me trying to retire, we keep getting work,” he said.) From time to time, he would sneak in periods of working on his own art, along the way attempting to unlearn and weed out some of the second-nature graphic design skills he has accumulated. “It’s sometimes difficult, but I'm getting better at that,” said Meyer, who began devoting more time to his personal artwork in the last 10 years. “I can see it. I can feel it in myself that my mind is focused more on the fine art.”

The dichotomy between graphic design and fine art is a bit clearer when Meyer is working with clay, a material he fell in love with back in high school and later pursued at the Cultural Arts Center. One of Meyer’s earlier pieces, “The Three,” proved to be a watershed moment artistically. “It introduced me to a technique that I latched on to early, which was using copper oxide in a second firing. It really stuck with me because it brought out the detail in the clay,” he said.

On a material like porcelain, the copper oxide would be blue, but on the clay it turns black, giving dimension and a weathered patina to the pieces, which often depict faces. Meyer is drawn less to landscapes and more to “the human side of things.”

While “Faces” isn’t a retrospective, the featured work is culled from various phases of Meyer’s life as an artist, highlighting different mediums and techniques. Lately, though, he’s focusing on the simplicity of graphite pencil on paper alongside his clay work.

Inevitably, those little cyan spheres reappear, too. The provenance of the blue marbles remains unknown, and at this point, Meyer isn’t overly eager to discover their origins. There’s no magic without a little mystery.

"Bill Meyer: Faces"

Studios on High Gallery

Opening Saturday, Sept. 5

686 N. High St., Short North


"Vision 3" by Bill Meyer