September 21, 2023


How Art Works

Interview with Elizabeth Higgins – Portray Perceptions

16 min read

The Dialog. 36 x 48, oil on canvas. 2018

I’m happy to submit this new interview with my pal Elizabeth Higgins, whom I do know from our involvement with the Prince Avenue Gallery in NYC. We talked over Zoom and electronic mail to get the background for this narrative-styled interview, which is a format I hope to proceed every now and then. She is having a solo exhibition from November 30 via December 24 on the Prince Street Gallery, with the reception on Thursday, Dec. 1, 5-8 pm, How the Gentle Will get In, displaying her many new work and monotypes. She additionally has a present on the George Billis Gallery in Westport, CT (Nov 15-Dec 30, 2022).

Pilgrimage to St. Annes, Fogo Island, Newfoundland, 2020, oil on canvas, 6×12 inches

She was additionally not too long ago included group present this previous March – Gentle of Day, The Language of Panorama, Curated by Karen Wilkin, which confirmed on the Westbeth Gallery in NYC together with famend artists Lois Dodd, Albert Kresch, Stanley Lewis, and a number of other others.
Karen Wilkin said in her catalog essay for the exhibition Light of Day, The Language of Panorama:

“Elizabeth Higgins distills her photographs from statement, typically paring her photographs all the way down to massive elemental areas; dramatic skies or expanses of water can dominate the canvas, but additionally learn as unbiased shapes. In different works, she frames extra complicated notations with broad planes that may be rationalized anecdotally but additionally features as huge summary components.”  Karen Wilkin

Pilgrimage to St.Anne’s, Fogo Island, 10x8in, woodblock lithograph, 2021

Higgins designs her work with vibrant colour and expressive paint dealing with that accentuates the sensation of a radiant pictorial gentle that illuminates each her bodily and emotional worlds. Her scenes typically embrace comparatively small simplified figures in a big inside area, turned away from us. These figures typically keep away from facial particulars, maybe representing an thought or feeling a couple of member of the family or pal. They’re typically seen in contemplative poses, looking a window, studying a e-book, strolling alongside a road, or in a museum setting. There are additionally landscapes, typically of an missed side of suburban landscapes or maybe a setting or rising solar over a pastoral, overseas setting.

Yellow Gentle, 2022, oil on canvas, 10×10 inches

Higgins’s visible investigations and colour harmonies insist on the facility of colour, form, and gesture to carry consideration, keep away from overt political or cultural commentary, and never step far past any anticipated formalist boundaries. The emotive tone and formal summations of her work and prints are contemplative, not confrontational.

She rejects following any dictums for what’s a correct topic to color and that it’s okay for a portray to be lovely. She celebrates the notion from what Matisse mentioned: “What I dream of is an artwork of steadiness, purity, and serenity… I created this work with the deliberately easy underpinning of being peaceable and restorative.”

John Goodrich wrote in his catalog essay for this present,

“Elizabeth Higgins is a painter clearly attuned to the workings of sunshine. Stylistically, her work hit a candy spot halfway between abstraction and realism; her broadly limned varieties search a clarifying order, whereas her colours attraction to our deeply internalized expectations of sunshine, lending tangible openness to expanses of air and water, and vitality to textures and contrasting particulars.”

Her motifs are discovered on the planet surrounding her, and he or she is lucky that it typically entails scenes with radiant magnificence, however gentle requires darkness to exist. The works in her How The Gentle Will get In have been made throughout our bleak pandemic in addition to the tragic sudden demise of her son. For her, art-making turned one of many few cracks within the darkness that ultimately began to let the sunshine in.
The title of her present is from the well-known line in Canadian songwriter Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” tune…

“There’s a crack, a crack in every part
That’s how the sunshine will get in”

Her late son, William, inspired her throughout moments of doubt by saying, “What would the world be like with out artwork and artists, Mother? It could be a wasteland.”

Verdant Panorama, 2022, oil on aluminum, 10 x 20 inches

Elizabeth was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. Drawing was a substantial a part of her early expertise, a strategy to discover refuge from the commotion of her eight siblings and appeal to consideration from her father, a doctor and medical professor, and her mom. Her dad and mom did little to encourage her to grow to be an artist and felt art-making may be a distracting indulgence that will discourage her from following the identical educational path her brothers took to grow to be main medical docs ultimately.

Elizabeth advised me,

“You can discover me drawing on the kitchen desk, the basement, in my father’s den, in my room beneath the eaves on the third ground – wherever I may discover a quiet place in a home crammed with my eight siblings. Trying again now, this will likely have been a method for me to get my dad and mom’ consideration which was a tough factor to do in a household of 9…. In actual fact, as a fourteen-year-old, I keep in mind copying Feruzzi’s’ “La Madonnina, 1897” for my mom, providing it up as an apology for having upset her. It stood framed on her bedside desk for the remainder of her life.

My dad and mom didn’t focus on artwork or music with me or my three brothers or 5 sisters. Weekly piano and ballet classes have been my solely publicity to artwork. My first formal artwork training was in my senior yr of highschool, the place I used to be mentored by a instructor who inspired me to audit her studio artwork class. I cherished each minute of being in that classroom with the classical music taking part in and all the ladies busy, concentrating on no matter piece they have been engaged on. The instructor inspired me to go and have a look at all the good work within the Artwork Gallery of Ontario, which owned Fra Angelico, Raphael, Tintoretto, the Canadian Group of Seven, Jack Bush, and Henry Moore. A brand new visible world opened as much as me.”

She then studied artwork, music, and literature at Queens College in Ontario, incomes her BFA. She additionally studied Printmaking, apprenticed beneath Canadian printmaker JC Heywood, and studied portray with British painters David Andrew and Ralph Allen from The Slade Faculty.

After graduating from Queens College, she moved to NYC after being accepted into the Parsons MFA program in Portray 1983-1985 and obtained a Helena Rubinstein Scholarship Award. She typically proudly talks about her life-changing research there with Leland Bell, Paul Resika, John Heliker, Stanley Lewis, and Robert DeNiro, Sr. I requested her who most led her within the course of her present work and prints, and he or she mentioned it will most definitely be Robert de Niro Sr. and Leland Bell.

She advised me that the one essential lesson she discovered was “to be dedicated to your course of of constructing artwork and the artwork itself. I noticed firsthand my academics’ dedication to their work and the way they led by instance. However I’ve additionally since discovered how one can silence these artists’ voices and doctrines to higher hear my very own.”What Higgins says right here jogs my memory of Philip Guston’s well-known quote concerning the Studio Ghosts: “Once you’re within the studio portray, there are lots of people in there with you – your academics, mates, painters from historical past, critics… and one after the other when you’re actually portray, they stroll out. And when you’re actually portray YOU stroll out.”

How the Gentle Will get In, 2022, oil on canvas, 14×11 inches

Higgins goes on to discuss her expertise learning with Leland Bell;

 “He was a really supportive instructor. I might say he was a father-like determine to many people. He was decided that all of us “discovered how one can see” earlier than we graduated; like a musician, he would say: it’s important to be taught the notes earlier than you may play. He taught us methods of seeing tone and worth via colour and that to make a “good image,” and that as a painter, you needed to discover ways to paint the massive sweeps of planes, colour, type, and lightweight. He burdened the significance of avoiding particulars till we obtained all these bigger issues proper. Additionally, he emphasised that one mustn’t attempt to “copy” nature however suggest it. For example, he would clarify that Courbet would paint the massive, important form of a tree which may visually counsel, however not truly paint, each leaf on the tree.”

Leland was an intense and analytical instructor. He taught us that portray is a continuing course of and that the artist’s want to create a way of steadiness and counterbalance via colour, line, quantity, rhythm, and lightweight is troublesome to attain. 

Home Throughout The Discipline, 2022, oil on aluminum, 7×5 inches

Caledon Fields, 2022, oil on canvas, 6×9 inches

His admiration for his most cherished painters was contagious; college students can be captivated by his enthusiasm whereas listening to him lecturing about Mondrian, Derain, or Balthus. We’d be taught not solely about an awesome murals however how we, too, would possibly go about making an awesome portray. 

He was all the time buzzing music, speaking about “Chicken” (Charlie Parker) and different jazz giants. He as soon as requested me concerning the nice jazz pianist from Toronto, Oscar Peterson, the place I used to be from, asking me if I had ever heard him play. He used to name me “Candy Betsy from Pike,” saying that I used to be like “Betsy” from the ballad as a result of I traveled removed from Canada to a overseas land to make a brand new life, which is exactly what I did. He taught me many issues and remains to be very a lot with me.”

I requested Elizabeth how her work departs from sure elements of her instructor’s method of working. Elizabeth mentioned,

“I differ from Leland in that I don’t “obsessively rework” my work, as Leland was recognized to do. I have to belief my voice when it says a portray is completed. Typically a murals can appear easy, which is okay too. I’ve discovered that you simply don’t all the time need to wrestle and labor over a bit for it to be a “good” portray. This may be seen within the work of Leland’s spouse, artist Louisa Mattiasdottir, and his daughter Temma. and Lois Dodd, all of whom have an innate capability to fantastically simplify and glean the necessities of a panorama.

Once I requested her about her portray course of and the way statement knowledgeable her work, she talked about how she avoids a set method for making her work, telling me, “I’ll paint from reminiscence, and typically, I paint immediately from life. I don’t use a method. I don’t essentially seek for a motif. I typically stumble upon a well-recognized scene or motif I’ve seen for years that all of a sudden strikes me in a brand new method, typically from how the altering gentle reveals some thrilling new chance.”

There’s a shut relationship between Higgins’s work and monotypes. The readability and ease of the design and colour, in addition to the drawing with paint.

View Throughout the River, 48 x36 in, oil on canvas, 2020

View Throughout The River, monotype 18 x 14 in, 2020

I requested Christopher Shore, Workers Grasp Printer on the Heart for Up to date Printmaking in Norwalk, CT. to say a couple of phrases about Elizabeth Higgins’ printmaking.

“Watching the artist Elizabeth Higgins within the printmaking studio is such an insightful expertise. Most instances, the artist is alone within the portray studio, however in printmaking, working with a collaborative grasp printer, one features particular entry into an artist’s course of. Seeing Elizabeth work rapidly and spontaneously, with rollers and brushes, mixing the inks and making use of them to the plexiglass matrix, you may really feel the engagement with, and the exploration of the composition, because it develops over a brief time frame. Transforming the plate and refining the picture whereas creating a number of print variations from the ink on the palette and the residual ink on the plate, you actually really feel her means of investigation. Monotype printmaking is a comparatively quick and spontaneous methodology of working and I’m all the time excited to see Elizabeth grapple with the method, whetherin easy black ink or with a full vary of luminous colour. The outcomes are a diversified array of impressions, some complicated and refined, whereas others free and uncooked. Collectively they convey a closeness to those deeply felt locations which are described in her work. Elizabeth’s prints totally make use of the dynamic monotype course of and exemplify her dedication to the enterprise of her visible expression.” – Christopher Shore, Workers Grasp Printer

I requested Elizabeth to discuss her course of and the way she decides what to color. Listed below are a couple of of her ideas on this.

“Typically, I strategy a clean canvas with solely a obscure thought of how I’ll strategy my material. My course of begins in numerous methods. Typically I’ll spend time in my studio simply studying and looking out on the work of assorted artists, and different instances I’ll discover a picture in the true world that conjures up me to start a portray. The whole lot is a possible supply for an thought for a portray topic; images I’ve taken or journal images, in addition to sketches immediately from nature. I work reactively, engaged on one space and seeing how that pertains to one other space of the canvas and the way it must work as an entire, in phrases, of rhythm, type, and colour.”

“The window is a motif that I typically use to border each inside and exterior areas, in addition to “how the sunshine will get in.” I’ve no preconceived notion of how a portray needs to be; I’ve no final plan. It’s the problem and sense of shock that pursuits me…in any other case, I might be bored. The method would grow to be too formulaic. “

One thing Discovered, 2022, 48×36 inches

Trying Out, 2022, oil on canvas, 12 x 9 in

“I’m attempting to get to the “essence” of issues in my work. I desire to keep away from every part being actually spelled out for the viewer. I need the viewer to be dropped at my consideration and moved by my work.”

“I’m a messy painter; I don’t have a clear, organized studio or palette. I work in a really reactive, intuitive method. I begin by making marks of thinned-out oil paint on the canvas. Typically with a coloured floor and different instances work immediately on a white canvas – it relies upon.”

“Engaged on a brand new canvas is all the time thrilling to me –after which nearly instantly, I feel, OK, what am I doing, and the way do I resolve this? How do I obtain the sense of sunshine, area, temper, and poetry I’m after? Typically it comes simply, typically, it doesn’t, and typically if it’s not working, I put the portray apart and check out to not get dejected. It’s a love/hate factor for me. Typically I’ll come again to it, and typically, I can resolve it. I’ve discovered that always I’ll ultimately, however not all the time, be capable of make it work. So in that sense, making a very good portray is a course of, a apply, one thing you’re employed at. I’ve realized that I can’t simply go into my studio and count on to create an awesome portray each time.”

I Stood There As soon as, 2022, monotype, 12 x 12 in

Solitude, 36 x 32 inches, 2022

“Quite the opposite, typically these work solely resolve after placing in a variety of time, vitality, and wrestle. Typically I’ve to drag it aside, wipe it down and begin over, shedding all the great elements with the unhealthy. Nonetheless, after I do get into that very targeted Zen-like state of focus the place every part appears to be working – it’s an awesome feeling. Would I name this “obsessive”? I’m not “obsessing” over resolving the portray I made. As an alternative, I proceed to discover new and alternative ways to complete, which can transform a really totally different portray than it began out to be.”

My Mom’s Backyard, 2022 oil on canvas 36 x 36 in

I requested Elizabeth what artists or work have been most influential to her.
She admitted this was troublesome to reply as there are such a lot of artists and explanation why they may be essential to her. Braque, Gaugin, Degas, Balthus and Morandi however greater than something, the post-impressionists, resembling Bonnard, Vuillard, and the painter with essentially the most lasting and important affect, have been Matisse and his strategy to simplification and his use of colour who mentioned:
“I’ve all the time tried to cover my very own efforts and needed my work to have the lightness and joyousness of a springtime which by no means anybody suspect the labors has price me.”

She additionally famous that Matisse mentioned:
“A younger painter who can’t liberate himself from the affect of previous generations is digging his personal grave.”

“I’ve been interested in Matisse’s colour for a very long time. I keep in mind seeing the 2010 present at MoMA: “Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917. I notably cherished his work “Inside With A Goldfish Bowl”, “Goldfish and Palette” and “The Piano Lesson .” I like many elements, however what notably strikes me is his sophistication in utilizing darkish blacks and greys to border areas of flattened planes of colour. The vibrance of his colour harmonies and use of the window as a motif to mirror each the inside and exterior worlds are all issues I get enthusiastic about.”

Refection 2, 2022, oil on canvas, 9×12 inches

Hans Hofmann’s educating about colour was formative in lots of Higgins’s academics, particularly Robert de Niro, Sr., who was one other essential affect on her. This aesthetic is clear in her work.
Hofmann mentioned, “Whether or not you utilize it in an ornamental sense or within the sense of a grand symphonic poem, the import factor all the time to be remembered is that the chief perform of colour is to create gentle.” “In nature, gentle creates the colour; within the image, colour creates light.” A fantastic e-book to learn on Hofmann’s educating is the 2011 e-book; Shade Creates Gentle: Research with Hans Hofmann by Tina Dickey. She talks at size about his teachings, particularly how he taught that pictorial gentle primarily comes from the levels of colour distinction, resembling gentle in opposition to darkish or heat in opposition to cool. Hofmann means that colour as gentle doesn’t come from naturalistic tonal gradations; as a substitute, it’s the pure, unbroken colour planes reacting to adjoining colours and their levels of distinction. The painter’s selections on how one colour form sits subsequent to a different evoke extra of the feeling of sunshine.


Trying Out At The Museum, 2022, oil on canvas, 48×36 inches

Figures on the Exhibition, 2022, oil on canvas, 40×30 inches

In response to my asking to listen to extra about her strategy to portray her motifs, she replied,

“I attempt to keep away from drowning out the fantastic thing about the pure order of issues.. I need to be respectful of nature’s narrative and categorical my emotional response to what I see round me by emphasizing the recurring components of sunshine, shapes, and colours, which inform a compelling story and have a good time the true world.”

“So far as the subject material is worried, my artwork has broadened to incorporate my kids in my figurative work. Apart from bringing gentle into my life, my kids, I do know, have discovered a method into my artwork.

Ready, 2019, oil on canvas, 48×36 inches

Nonetheless life with Orchids 2020, oil on canvas, 48×36 inches

For a few years, I didn’t have the time to concentrate on my artwork whereas elevating 4 younger kids, and after they reached highschool, my function as a mom turned extra demanding. Being dedicated to each my artwork and my younger household wasn’t potential for me. To be a very good mom, one thing needed to give. It was my artwork. As my kids have grown up, I now have extra time to dedicate to my artwork. I wouldn’t have achieved it some other method.”

Julia Studying, 2020, monotype, 12×12 inches

“Within the later levels of my life, marriage, motherhood, and the lack of my son, my work has continued to be impacted and adjusted by an entire new set of experiences and challenges that I may by no means have imagined as a school or graduate pupil.”

“The affect of my cumulative experiences over years of marriage, motherhood, and tragedy shapes my artwork in the present day. I might say that my artwork in the present day is a mix of the expressionism of my early work, the formal coaching of my MFA, and the on a regular basis involvement in all elements of household life.”

Night Gentle, 2020, oil on canvas, 16×20 inches

I requested Elizabeth if her work ever had a religious element, and he or she answered by saying,

“No, not deliberately. However all artwork is, in a method, religious.
Gerhard Richter as soon as mentioned, “Artwork is the best type of hope.” His phrases definitely ring true for a lot of who’ve suffered a loss. I imagine within the energy of artwork and the way the expertise of merely artwork, listening to music, and studying a e-book, provides one a sense of pleasure, consolation, a way of solace, and hope.

angle of repose 2022, 8×10 inch

Milton Glaser additionally mentioned, “the urge to make issues, to make artwork might be a survival gadget; the urge to create magnificence is one thing else.

Glaser’s phrases resonate with me, having misplaced my solely son. I didn’t know how one can transfer ahead at first, however after some extent, I returned to my studio and ultimately began making work and prints once more. It was my strategy to survive. The straightforward act of constructing artwork, as a result of it requires your full consideration, was, within the Buddhist sense, a method for me to be totally current on this new world with out my son.

As a result of the act of artwork requires your full consideration, in that method, it’s religious. A pal of mine who is just not an artist describes my work as being soulful – I requested her what she meant by that, and he or she mentioned that it “moved” her and had gravitas. Does that imply it’s also religious? Possibly.”

All proceeds from gross sales throughout her upcoming Prince Avenue Gallery exhibition will probably be donated to in reminiscence of her son, William Jones (1991 -2018).

Hyperlink to interview on the Zeuxis web site Artisthood & Parenthood, an interview with Elizabeth Higgins & Clara Shen​ by Neil Plotkin

Elizabeth Higgins Web site:
Elizabeth Higgins Instagram: @elizabethhigginsart

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