Posts Tagged ‘Dave Higgins’

I came into the studio this morning and there was an interesting e-mail from Dave Higgins, a friend and one of my favorite artists whose work has been featured here on the blog  a number of times.  He said he visited a Corning senior center where they hold a weekly session to learn and practice the art of wood marquetry, which is creating pictures using thin veneers of woods as the medium instead of paint or pastel.  It requires precise cutting and placement of the wood as well as a keen eye for matching the tones and textures of the scene you are trying to replicate in wood.  It has been around since the 15th century and has reached some pretty spectacular heights.

Dave said that this group of mainly older women  meet every Friday to practice this art and that they use items snipped from the local newspaper as reference material for them to translate into wood.  To Dave’s surprise, it turns out that their favorite subject to copy is my work. 

He told them he knew me and said that they looked suddenly afraid as though they might be in trouble for plagiarizng my work.  He assured them that I would not be upset but would instead get a kick out of it.  He was  right.  I do get a kick out of this and am very honored as well  It’s a sort of affirmation that my work reaches the wide spectrum of people that I hope for it. 

 I had a similar experience a number of years ago when I was contacted by an arts therapist who worked with seniors.  She would take photocopies of  artists’ works and print them in grayscale for her seniors to color and said that my work was the most popular with her seniors.  She said they really responded strongly to the shapes and lines in my work as well as to the colors in the original images.  That was very gratifying.

I hope to someday drop in and see some of these landscapes in wood.  I hope these folks continue to find them inspiring for their own work.  The image at the top is from Bill G. at Colorado Marquetry.  The image below is his translation of the USS Constitution.

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I can’t say I’m a fan of Ted Nugent in any way.  His music certainly has seldom excited me (Cat Scratch Fever? Gimme a break!) and his act as the ultra-conservative bowhunting badboy dressed in camo is just aggravating.  But he has his fans.  Over the years I have locally encountered graffiti of his name scrawled on buildings, overpasses and any other sort of public space you can think of.  Shown here is a painting by one of my favorites, Dave Higgins, called, of course, Ted Nugent which features the name emblazoned on an old garage.  There was a reservoir overflow on the highway near Corning that had the name in huge letters across it for quite some time until it was finally painted over.

I don’t know if it was the same guy in every instance who sprayed the name or if a cult of sorts has formed that inexplicably worship the aging rocker.  I found one example of this graffiti online from a site that concerns itself with the canal towpaths of England so perhaps this is not as local as I had thought.

There was one Ted Nugent song that I did like, from his early days with the Detroit based Amboy Dukes when he was barely out of high school in the 60’s.  The song is The Journey to the Center of the Mind.  With it’s thinly veiled drug references ( Nugent says he never knew what the song was about!)  it’s the sort of song that could be used as one of those songs used in a movie to define the timeframe for the scene in which it’s used.  I like this video and the lead singer’s British Invasion influenced garb.  Give a listen before you go spray Ted Nugent on the side of your local Wegman’s.


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I’m off to talk with professor Dave Higgins’  drawing class this morning at a local coffeehouse, something I have done in the past.  It’s always a challenge speaking to students, much different than speaking to a gallery audience of people who somewhat know your work.  There’s a bit of a wall to knock down with some of the students and sometimes its not an easy thing to accomplish.  All I can hope is that I come out with at least one or two thoughts that might prove useful to some of these kids somewhere down the line, some little tidbit that they might hold on to for more than five minutes.

I will probably talk about the focus and choice I mentioned in a post last week.  Making a choice and giving a fully invested effort is essential, be it in art or some other field.  But it’s also important to recognize that this choice can be an evolving, changing thing.  Where they headed for may not be their final destination.  But if they make that first conscious decision to head in a single direction they will at least be on some sort of path forward, one of their own choice.

We’ll see.

Anyway, here’s a little musical interlude for this lovely Thursday morning.  It’s a video that mixes two of my favorite things, the singing of Neko Case and beautiful old film and photos of the last century.  I find myself always moved by this kind of imagery, as though it is exposing our commonality as a people, our interconnectedness with one another.  Whatever the case, it’s a beautiful song that meshes very well with the video here.  Enjoy.

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I’m kind of wired from watching the conflict in Egypt on the tube in real time as though it were some sort of twisted sporting event,  the momentum of each side surging back and forth under a rainstorm of rocks and Molotov cocktails.  The term I heard several times yesterday was medieval and it certainly brings to mind the stories of the siege battles of that era.  Fire falling from rooftops on to the crowd below.  Men with whips racing through the throngs on horses and camel, flailing away as they rode.  Sheets of steel used as shields behind which the advancing forces marched forward.  Men carrying machetes and clubs.  I’m still waiting for someone to drag out a catapult or trebuchet.

Crazy stuff.  I need some sort of relief from the tension of merely watching this horror show.

How about this painting of  H.R. Pufnstuf from my friend  and great painter Dave Higgins?  It’s a tiny piece, about 3″ square, of the title character from the old Saturday morning kids show.  From Sid and Marty Krofft, it ran for a couple of years back around 1970 and featured life-sized puppet-like characters in a storyline about a young boy who is lost and trapped on this enchanted island where everything is alive.  For instance, the houses talk.  The island is ruled by its mayor H.R. Pufnstuf who protects the young boy from the evil Witchiepoo and her minions who constantly try to steal the boy’s companion talking flute.

Actually, it was pretty awful and I remember thinking that as a kid even as I kept watching .  But the awfulness has transformed into a certain  kitschiness over the years and it has achieved a sort of iconic quality.  It’s still pretty hard to watch (you can see episodes on hulu.com) but it has a catchy theme song that uses Paul Simon’s 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) as its melody.

This little painting is part of the West End Gallery’s Little Gems show which I’ve written about here before and opens tomorrow night.  I took a walk through the show late last week and when I saw this piece, it stopped me dead in my tracks.  It was such a lovely little piece, mixing the pop quality of Pufnstuf with Dave’s ability to paint beautiful landscapes with the feel of the early Luminist school.  He’s known for this juxtaposition, most notably for his Pimp in the Woods series, shown here.

Long story short, I bought this little gem.  It makes me smile and that’s so much better than what I’ve been seeing on the news.

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I went to an opening last night at the West End Gallery for a memorial exhibition of paintings by the late Tom Buechner and an accompanying display of work by the many, many artists who painted with or studied under him.  It was a great show and was heavily attended.  A fitting tribute to Buechner, whose influence in this area has been immense.

At the opening a friend, Brian Hart, who is a great talent of a painter, told me I should stop over to a local arts center, 171 Cedar Arts, to see an exhibit by artist Dave Higgins.  It was a show of illustrated pages and Brian said it was incredible.  After a short while at the West End, Cheri and I snuck out and headed over to 171.

I have mentioned Dave Higgins before in this blog in a post about his Yellow House painting, which he has painted over a hundred times.  He is incredibly talented and creative with a slightly skewed sense of the world that often shows through in his work. We share a love of goofy pop culture, such as Hee Haw .

 I remember sitting in for the owners of the West End many years ago and selling one of his paintings to an older couple .  It was a dark night scene of the city of Corning as seen from a neighboring hilltop.  In the sky above the city was the perfectly rendered head of a red demon with tongue extended.  It could have been awful in the wrong hands but in Dave’s care it became a wonderful painting, with beautiful color and feel. The couple that bought it were an elderly couple who were just swept away by the piece.

This show, David Higgins: My Book 1987-2010, features pages much like the one shown above from the show’s postcard.  Dave started doing at least one of these pages per month back in 1987 and over the years has amassed a treasure trove of these pages.  They are remarkable.  Each page is so different from the next and each shows multiple styles and influences that boggle the mind of someone like me.  Some are purely in black and white while others have rich color.  There are little stories and narratives on some pages and wonderful wordplay throughout.  One of my favorites was a page with the headding that read “Lester, Said Hester, Let’s Pester Sylvester“.   There are references to pop culture and literature, with much of the work influenced by one of three things– children’s books, the Head Comics of the 1960’s and 70’s and the Beauty Books of early 1900’s, which were produced to illustrate the quality of a publisher’s printing process.

I came out of there in complete awe of his creativity and talent.  It is always daunting to look upon a grand expression of talent obsessed.  I wish I had more sheets to show because I know my words lack the impact of the work itself.  If you’re in Corning before the show ends on Novemebr 12, do yourself a favor and stop in at 171 Cedar Arts.  I’m hoping that Dave publishes these as a group soon so that the rest of the world can discover this work that we are so fortunate to experience.

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Carry the Weight- GC Myers

I’m off this morning to speak with a group of college students at a local coffeehouse.  Every year,  a class in drawing or painting from our local community college meets at the end of the semester with professor Dave Higgins to discuss what their next step might be: what opportunities are there in the art field, how they should proceed, if they can make a living, etc.  The things that lay beyond the nuts and bolts instruction of the class.   Dave likes to have me come in to serve as an example of a local guy who was once much like them, attending the same school with the same concerns and self-doubts, but was now living as a professional artist.

Whenever I speak with students, I try to speak less about technical aspects of painting and more about building up the belief that they have a unique point of view.  They have to understand that there will always be someone more talented than themselves out there, someone with greater technical skills and more education.  This is unavoidable but they can’t let it deter them.  Because success in the field of art, and other fields as well, is not necessarily about who is the most talented or who has the most letters behind their name.  Success comes from making the most of your talents.
I know that’s an old chestnut but it’s true nonetheless.  Art is about  gathering  and refining whatever talent you might have and using it to communicate your vision of the world to others.  It’s this belief, that your view of the world is as important and viable as any other,  that transcends other limitations.  Once they have this belief, the hard work and the sacrifices needed to succeed don’t seem so daunting. 
So that’s what I try to accomplish with this talk.  Make them think about their view of the world. Let them know that their feelings and thoughts are no different nor less important than anyone else’s.   Their voice can be heard if they so wish.
That’s a newer piece at the top of the page, a small painting on paper that I call Carry the Weight.  I thought it fit well with this post even though I’m not sure what is in the red bag.  I have painted this fellow a number of times and he remains a mystery to me.  Maybe that’s his purpose.
Who knows?

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I’ve been exhibiting at the West End Gallery for over 15 years now and have benefitted in many ways. It was the first place I showed and sold my first piece of work. It was the first place my work was showcased. It was the place that first gave me hope of doing what I love as a career and has served as a jumping off point to other galleries.  So many other things as well. But perhaps the greatest benefit may have been what I have gained from observing the work of the other artists there over the years.

I’ve talked here and in my own blog of how artists from the Corning area such as Mark Reep, Marty Poole and Dave Higgins,  have shaped how I work and how I see my own work. Another such artist is Treacy Ziegler who has shown her collagraphs and, more recently, her paintings at the West End for many years now.

From the moment I saw Treacy’s work many years ago, I was intrigued. I instantly recognized that she was doing with her work what I wanted and didn’t have in my work at the time. Her prints had great areas of dark and light contrast and even in the lightest sections, a sense of darkness was always present which gave every piece real weight. Her bold colors and striking contrasts gave even the simplest compositions a deeper feeling.

They were also immediately identifiable as Treacy’s work. You could see a piece from across the street and you knew whose work it was. She has a very idiosyncratic visual vocabulary and her shapes and forms react beautifully with one another in the techniques she uses in producing her work.

At the time, my own work was still very transparent and very much watercolor based. With Treacy’s work in mind I started adding layers of darkness in my own way. Simplifying form. Enhancing contrast and color. All the time searching for my own vocabulary, my own look.

I’ve always maintained that artists are often more like synthesizers than creators. They absorb multiple influences and take what they see in these influences, merging them together to create something that is completely different than the original. Sometimes not even reminiscent of the influencing work.  For me, the West End has always been a great source for ideas and concepts to absorb. It may be in a certain brushstroke or the way a painting’s composition comes together or just in being exposed to a certain artist’s body of work for a long period of time. Whatever the case, I always find something in the work there that sparks new ideas within me.

And that has been a great benefit…

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This is the view of a house that Dave Higgins, one of my favorite painters,  used to see from his bedroom as a child growing up in Binghamton.  This scene and that yellow house made quite an impression because over the years Dave has painted this particular house over a hundred times.

I mention this today to illustrate a point about how artists will often paint in series or repetitively, often using the same compositional elements again and again.  For some painters, it might become an exercise in copying each detail so that eventually the very life is squeezed out of the scene  but in the hands of a talented artist with a truly probing mind such as Dave, it becomes a study in finding nuance and dimensions that make each new version take on a new and different life.

Painting repetitively allows a painter to free their mind from trying to compose and focus on pure execution, letting them spend more of their mental effort on the surfaces they’re creating.  The less time spent on capturing the basic form of the subject  results in a scene that changes subtly with new version, revealing more depth and feeling.

Think of it as musician with a new song.  The first several times through they are focused on learning the basic construction of the composition but it’s not until it becomes ingrained in their muscle memory and they can play the composition with little thought that they are free to find and express real feeling within the piece.

This bottom piece is an early version from Dave and you can see how Dave has evolved over  the years by examining the ones above this.  He paints the scene from memory and adds and subtracts small elements to fit each new piece.  Whatever is needed to fulfill what he sees in that new version, to give the depth he’s seeking in it.  If you’ve been fortunate enough to see some of the Yellow House paintings from Dave Higgins over the years, you’ll know what I mean.

Great stuff…

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