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Heavy Metal 

by Sheri Boggs

Star Wars... Nothing but Star Wars... See if you can't walk through Tim Biggs' newest exhibit without humming Bill Murray's version of Star Wars to yourself. It's not just the gleaming stainless steel, the refurbished leggy machinery and the wildly imaginative sculptural lines that gets that song into your head; it's also Biggs' irrepressible sense of play.

"Ores," Biggs' new line of high-end furniture debuting at the Kolva-Sullivan gallery this month, is serious, sure, but it's also a hell of a lot of fun. His workshop, guarded by an enormous metal gear out in the yard, is a no-nonsense affair in the industrial part of town. As the sounds of welding/sawing/sanding punctuate our visit, Biggs' works in progress -- a giant headboard shaped like an old-fashioned wind-up key, a pair of simple iron chairs, a stork-like floor lamp -- quietly await their finishing touches.

"It's never an issue of not having enough ideas. Usually I have too many," he says, shrugging and looking around at his many creations. "I just try to do one at a time and follow through with it as far as I can go."

Biggs' sense of play is evident throughout downtown Spokane; he's the man responsible for a string of intriguing handcrafted metal signs hanging from a row of businesses on Howard as well as the nifty "metal to magic" bench situated outside Slick Rock Burrito.

"That was actually an act of desperation," he laughs, describing how he went from Boo Radley's to Mizuna to Pilgrim's asking if he could create some inventive new signage for them. Boo Radley's was the first to bite, and their sign -- a glowing-red-eyed robot riding a spaceship -- is unquestionably the most enviable in all of downtown.

"I probably wouldn't want to do any more signs," he admits. "I put a lot of time and energy into those. But I think they came out pretty well."

Biggs' roots, both artistic and otherwise, grow deep into Spokane soil. His parents were friends with both Harold Balazs and Steve Adams and he notes that their influence is still a big part of his current work. (In fact, he still commissions Adams to do any necessary glass work for his furniture pieces, including an "Eye in the Sky" floor lamp that will be in the show.) Biggs moved to California after graduating from high school and worked for a clothing company before running into a cousin who owned a lighting company. In addition to becoming obsessed with fiber optics, Biggs learned metalworking -- a trade that came in handy when chance unceremoniously dropped him right back here in the 'kan.

"I was chasing a girl on her way to Europe and well, sort of ended up back here," he says. "But it's worked out OK. I can do my art here and make money at it, which is really a great thing."

So far, Spokane has been responsive. Biggs is currently working on some impressive refurbished metal gates for a local realtor in addition to getting ready for his show. The door panels are rescued wrought iron, sandblasted and reconfigured by Biggs, who also designed the rather H.R. Giger-esque handcast bronze handle that will eventually close and open them. He runs a tight outfit -- his help comes from friends and the occasional intern; his materials come from salvage yards and fortuitous circumstances.

"The Douglas fir on these chairs is recycled from the Community Building," he says, pausing by two poker-straight seats. "I like the combination of wood and metal. Often I find with metal that you need something added to it to make it more sensitive." He also finds it hard to pass up a wild find, no matter if it's something he has an immediate use for.

"That gear outside is about 1,200 pounds, but I had to have it," he says. "I figure it's gotta come in handy someday."

As for his new furniture line, Biggs is eager to unveil the fruits of the past five months' labor. Once the show is launched, he'll decide which pieces to produce multiples of, and he'll be that much closer to his dream of launching the line nationally. In addition to the larger pieces, the "Ores" line includes some smaller stuff -- CD racks and pine cone-inspired fixtures.

It's clear that Biggs' furnishings are a labor of love. He stops to show how the mechanism on the "Eye in the Sky" lamp works, smiling at the perfect movement of the lamp's weighted mechanism. He describes the most Star Wars-y of his tables as being "essentially two cones welded together" and says that his favorite medium is sheet metal, "because I can create any shape you can imagine." It's play, but on a thoroughly sophisticated "artistic modern" level.

"You know how in grade school you do a lot of stuff with paper cutouts? I made an old pilgrim once when I was like 11 or 12. It had a wavy beard and this amazing pop-up construction... I still remember making it," he says. "In fact, I just saw this thing at my mom's house the other day and was looking at it and realized, 'Wow, I'm doing the same thing with my work.'"

Publication date: 12/02/04

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