– By Sue Goldberg
Artist James Billiter’s sculpted bike racks rise with bursts of color against county park landscapes and remind us that everyday objects can be crafted with careful thought and infused with deeply rooted meaning.
Great Parks Forever, a foundation partner of Great Parks, combined efforts with ArtWorks this spring to install more of Billiter’s bike racks in five locations. The 21 functional sculptures evoke themes from nature and are now in use at Sharon Woods Harbor and Sharon Centre, Winton Woods Harbor and Winton Centre, and Little Miami Golf Center at the Little Miami Scenic Trail. The first of these works, from the “Ecosystem” collection, was installed at Miami Whitewater Forest Harbor in 2016.
We spoke with Billiter to find out more about the project, and what’s next for him.*
M&M: Did ArtWorks tap you for this project? Or did you apply?
JB: I have been fortunate to work with ArtWorks Cincinnati on several projects like the #InkYourLove mini-mural campaign. I was delighted when they approached me about the Great Parks Bike Rack project because I am an avid cyclist and nature lover.
M&M: How did you work out the concept for “Ecosystem”? What was your inspiration?
JB: I was inspired by Great Parks of Hamilton County’s dedication to preserving nature for the enjoyment of generations to come. I was intrigued by the idea of how a flower like milkweed might help the monarch butterfly migrate – or how a beaver’s dam helps slow a river, allowing for mussels, which in turn filters the water. I have been visiting many of the Great Parks for years, and I was struck by the diversity of the ecosystems, from lakes to forests. I liked the idea of these sculptures that celebrate the diversity but also playfully allow you to interact with the animals. Some are as tall as adults, while others are perfect sizes for kids’ bikes.
Aesthetically, I was inspired by the energy and fun of “Cincinnati Story” by George Sugarcane, which was outside of the Chiquita Building and is now at Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park – and also by Charley Harper, whose illustrations break down animals into elemental forms. He inspired me to start drawing as a child and has yet to stop inspiring me, as I have grown to appreciate his wit and storytelling.
M&M: In addition to sculpture, you’re involved in illustration, painting and printmaking. Are you working in other areas of art as well? In what area do you find yourself spending most of your time?
JB: I really love spending a majority of time in printmaking. I am able to pair my illustrations with typography to create fine art prints. One of my favorite things about printmaking is that it allows me to share my artwork with so many people. Mediums like screen printing are so democratic, allowing me to create something very affordable for almost everyone. While I am known most for printmaking, I also paint. Last year, I had the honor of creating 17 large paintings for Duke Energy celebrating the Cincinnati community and its culture. … Recently, I have been filling sketchbooks with ideas for future sculptures and paintings.
M&M: What else is on your plate? What’s next for you?
JB: Currently, I have two shows open. A larger collection of work is at the new Gallery 708 downtown. And I have some prints, as well as laser-cut and engraved wooden relief sculptures, on display at Grainwell in Covington through the end of June. I plan to wrap up a 114-foot mural of the history of Madisonville in July. I am also excited for future shows at Pique in April of next year, and I am planning something with Xavier University as well.