Monthly Archives: October 2012

Stars are the Diamonds of the Poor

I decided to rework Stars are the Diamonds of the Poor. I found that around the edges of each panel, where the backing frame is, the points made by the white chalk pencil tend to be larger in diameter than in the middle, making a noticeable and significant difference in the overall look. I used a sponge to erase some of these areas (I caught this problem about 3 panels into the project) so I didn’t have too much work to do. I’m thinking of separating the panels, making it a piece in 6 parts but I’m not positive about this. The last step will be to spray varnish them, but I need to wait for a nice day so I can let them dry with the windows open.

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Jacques Henri Lartigue

I found a book of Jacques Henri Lartigues photographs at Strand Book Store for a couple of bucks and and was instantly drawn to the images inside. Supposedly these photos from his childhood/teens were hidden away in extensive journals until he was 69. He then went on to have a major retrospective at MOMA. Here’s what Wikipedia says about him:

Born in Courbevoie to a wealthy family, he started taking photographs when he was 7, his subject matter being primarily his own life and the people and activities in it. As a child he photographed his friends and family at play – running and jumping, racing wheeled soap boxes, building kites, gliders and aeroplanes, and climbing the Eiffel Tower. He also photographed many famous sporting events, including automobile races such as the Coupe Gordon Bennett and the French Grand Prix, early flights by aviation pioneers including Gabriel Voisin, Louis Blériot, Louis Paulhan and Roland Garros, and the tennis player Suzanne Lenglen at the French Open tennis championships.

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The Message Was Clear

The Message Was Clear is another painting that I made this summer. It’s from a photo that I took in China a couple of years ago and shows an empty rusted sign with a grey sky behind it. The original photo has Chinese characters on it and some numbers which I removed in the painting; I was more interested in the structure of the sign as it related to the sky than in the content. This is another 24″x32″ painting and I started by the background with a flat grey acrylic latex. Then I sketched in the slats. I experimented with using burnt sienna water color over the latex and discovered a perfect effect for creating rust. I found that by varying the amount of water that I used I could create a good variation of opaqueness. For the solid areas I found that I needed to paint it 5 or 6 times to get it totally solid. It was important to use the right brush, and I soon found the best technique for creating straight solid edges by starting at the farthest point and pulling towards me, always painting the left edge. I would then turn the painting 180 degrees and do the same thing and then fill in the middle. I did this until I was done. It took about a week off and on. When you are close to the painting, I found that the thin straight lines create an almost psychedelic effect.

The Message Was Clear by Brian Higbee

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Last Chance, When We Last Met…Before…Even Now and (OL)

I decided that I wanted to spend the summer painting since it’s not something that I often do. I like to work on art that falls within specific, although sometimes undefined, contexts but sometimes I like to make these paintings that I consider to be more “poetic” in nature. These usually come from photographs that I’ve taken and decide that it would be a nice image to paint; not necessarily the best reason to make art but sometimes it’s an intuitive process deciding what to paint. Last Chance is a painting of a sky writer that I saw out my window sometime last fall. The pilot was doing a very bad job of writing the words and I never saw the complete phrase that they were trying to spell; I don’t think they ever completed it. The sky was a beautiful blue though, dark at the top and slightly yellow at the bottom. I like the fact that the smoke trail letters are drifting and skewed as they dissipate on the left and the letters on the right are tight and easily legible from being recently made. I also like that the phrase is not complete at the time of the photo.

I made the painting in the standard 24″x32″ size with canvas stretched over a panel and painted with oil. I consider this a one shot painting since I needed to paint it all at once before the paint dried in order to get the proper blending and effects of whispy smoke trails.

This is not the first sky writing painting that I’ve made. In 2006 I made When We Last Met…Before…Even Now which is actually a jet stream, and in 2007 made (OL) which was another sky writer that I had seen out my window back around 2001. The image stuck with me for many years until I finally painted it. That was another sky writer who never completed what was being spelled and did a horrible job of making consistent letters. I’m really drawn to the incompleteness of the phrases from what is usually reserved for advertisements or personal messages. I’m also very attracted to the use of vast skies which I’ve used many times in my paintings and feel that this is obviously due to the fact that my studio/home for the past 13 years has a wall of windows that gives me an unobstructed view of the sky and Manhattan. I get non stop light for 12 hours of the day. I’ve included all of these images below including a detail of When We Last Met…Before…Even Now.

Last Chance by Brian Higbee(OL) by Brian HigbeeWhen We Last Met...Before...Even Now by Brian HigbeeWhen We Last Met...Before...Even Now (Detail) by Brian Higbee

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Sursum Corda “Lift Up Your Hearts” (Panels 1 and 2)

Sursum Corda “Lift Up Your Hearts” (Panels 1 and 2) is a 2 part piece that I started in 2009 and finished in 2010. Both panels were first painted with special Future Living Projects white acrylic latex and then gridded out into half inch squares with pencil. They are each 36″x48″ in size and made with 6,912 squares totaling 13,824 squares all together. The left panel shows a dish used for receiving information and communications from space and the right panel shows the surface of the moon. I had both images in an archive of images that I’ve wanted to use for a long time. The surface of the moon image I was originally going to paint and use as a backdrop for an Apollo 11 model that I built, but has since been destroyed. For that model, I was interested in exploring ideas that had to do with a sort of reverse propaganda system where information is used by people in order to support conspiratorial ideas. In this case, it was about people who believed that we have never been to the moon, like the movie Capricorn One starring OJ Simpson. I did a lot of research on this phenomenon and was fascinated by how convincing some of the stories were that denied that we had ever been to the moon. The piece consisted of an old Apollo 11 model that looked like it was from the 70’s and a surface of the moon that I made out of plaster of Paris and spray painted grey. At the time I was also working on a series of drawings about space exploration called A History of Space and Communication (1926- ).

The title Sursum Corda “Lift Up Your Hearts” (Panels 1 and 2) is taken from a call and response prayer used in the Christian Church. I thought of the left panel as an image of something that is looking and the right panel as a dull response with no answer. Furthermore, I like the idea of the image being pixilated since it echoes the digitizing of information as it travels through space. Finally, I liked the idea of bringing a religious aspect to a purely scientific situation. This is one of the few pieces that I’ve used for both the Future Living Projects and the Associated Artists for Propaganda Research, feeling that it fits into both contexts.

Sursum Corda (%22Lift Up Your Hearts) Part 1 and 2 by Brian Higbee, Future Living Projects and Associated Artists for Propaganda Research

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Police Officers Examining the Mountaineering Ice Ax Used to Assassinate the Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky near Mexico City in 1940

Today I finished Police Officers Examining the Mountaineering Ice Ax Used to Assassinate the Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky near Mexico City in 1940. I didn’t keep track of when I started but I think it took about a month to finish, which is pretty fast. When all was said and done I painted 2832 half inch squares. It should have been 2880 but the panel that I made wasn’t quite wide enough so I compensated by elongating the width of some of the columns and shortening the amount of pixels from 60 to 59 across the width of the painting. Luckily I caught this glitch about a third of the way through and shortened the original reference photo by one pixel before reeking havoc on the composition. In the end I made a few changes to the painting that were different from the photo so that it would look a little better in its final form. First of all I darkened the highlights on the faces of the figure on the right and the policeman on the left; the camera flash caused distracting bright white areas. I did the same thing to the figure second from the left which pushed him a little farther into the background. I took out a black square from under the left side of the ax, which was caused by the jacket of the man behind it, in order to give the ax blade more definition. I did the same thing on the right ax blade but this time I put in some black squares to give it definition. To do this properly, I photoshopped the original photo that I used, reduced the resolution, allowing the computer to reconfigure the pixels, and then made the necessary changes on the canvas. The last thing I did was to take out a white area at the bottom right of the policeman’s jacket and also blacked in part of his jacket on the top right to make it smooth.

I’m planning on doing another pixel painting sometime soon; something that deals with the atomic bomb. I already have 2 canvas/panels ready to go but the sizes are a little off I think so they may not be usable for this. I’m supposed to be participating in a show in The Hague sometime next year that deals with the theme Ghost Modernism, and thought that the pixel paintings would be really appropriate. They all deal with the advancements of technology in the last century and its relationship, either directly or as a subtext, to the “spectacle” of violence as seen through the photograph as media. The themes that are addressed in these paintings fall right in line with the progression of Modernism and its inevitable catastrophic failure.

Police Officers Examining the Mountaineering Ice Ax Used to Assassinate the Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky near Mexico City in 1940 By Brian Higbee and Associated Artists for Propaganda Research

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Police Officers Examining the Mountaineering Ice Ax Used to Assassinate the Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky near Mexico City in 1940

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October 20, 2012 · 1:43 pm

Future By Design, Jacque Fresco and Future Living Projects

When I work on my pixel paintings I like to watch/listen to documentaries while I paint. I start these paintings by numbering a large section of the squares on the canvas with numbers that correlate with the right shade of grey which allows me to work without needing to think, except to make corrections. I recently discovered a documentary called Future By Design about futurist Jacque Fresco and his Venus Project. He’s a designer of sorts and makes models and prototypes based on his ideas about building a better designed future. With the aid of robots and the use of technologically progressive materials, he proposes a future that frees humanity from the pitfalls of war and economic strife, paving the way for our advancement into a more civilized society. He has been creating models since the 1950’s, designing helicopters, cars, houses, apartments and even whole cities. He has even built some of these structures down in Florida under his project, The Venus Project. His city design reminds me of a project that I started back in 2002 called the Future Living Projects, which uses a lot of architectural models. My earliest work for this project included several small models for future dwellings including a village model, a desert house, a power plant for energy production and a receiving station for communication. I further contextualized these pieces as set design/models for a fake futuristic sci-fi movie called MEGACITY VI. These pieces were meant to be part of a larger installation that was never fully developed that would include drawing, illustrations, painting, printed material and digital media. Below is a selection of Jacque Fresco’s designs and below that some images from Future Living Projects.

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The Village Model Small Scale Model by Brian Higbee and Future Living Projects The Village Model Small Scale Model (Detail)by Brian Higbee and Future Living ProjectsThe Desert House Small Scale Model by Brian Higbee and Future Living ProjectsReceiving Station Small Scale Model by Brian Higbee and Future Living Projects Power Station Small Scale Model by Brian Higbee and Future Living Projects

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Seth Seigelaub/Conceptual Art and the Politics of Publicity

I had been reading a book all summer that I recently finished called Conceptual Art and the Politics of Publicity by Alexander Alberro. It tells the history of curator/organizer/gallery owner/promoter Seth Siegelaub and the conceptual artists as they gained prominence through self promotion and advertising just as the art world was expanding into a global market and the Information Age was about to take hold. Seth Siegelaub and the Conceptual artists seemingly anticipated a global theoretical shift from the object as commodity to a new age of capitalism where information (i.e., documentation, publication, advertising, ideas) becomes the new commodity. Seth Siegelaub also co-authored the The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement which guarantees a profit from the future sales of an artists work and other rights. Just as the conceptual artists (Kosuth, Huebler, Weiner, Kaprow, Berry, etc.) had reached their peek, Seth Siegelaub retired his position, never cashing in on the “movements” accomplishments.

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A TELEPHONE INTERVIEW WITH SETH SIEGELAUB (AMSTERDAM) BY RAIMUNDAS MALASAUSKAS (VILNIUS) ON FEBRUARY 23, 2004. This interview appeared originally in the bi-montly newspaper produced by galerie Jan Mot.

Raimundas Malasauskas: I would like to trace the route of the “Art is to change what you expect from it” sentence that was used as a slogan of Paul Maenz Gallery. Paul said it originally came from you. Could you please tell me about the possible implications, use and the impact of this idea?

Seth Siegelaub: Art has to do with change; I said that, right? At least Paul Maenz says that I said that. Behind this is the idea of not having a preconceived idea or putting something into question. I think it may have had to do with a type of strategy for making art, but also for looking at art, I suppose. It also could be related, for example, to the “shock” value of a work of art; i.e. provoking one to think about things that one would normally not think about as art, or as “legitimate” art, or as “acceptable” art. It was maybe clearer then than it is now, because art at that time, before us, was a relatively narrowly-defined domain of activity. You were a painter or sculptor or something like that whose craft or activity was clearly defined, whether you were good or bad, or rich or poor. Our generation was really involved in changing the expectations about the borders of these very limited ideas. Our activity was very different than any art movement “ism” that came before us. Earlier, what was changed was the content within the accepted genre of painting or sculpture; a new image, new materials, larger scale or size, the process, or things like this. In the period of the 1960s people were thinking of changing the whole sphere of art; the limits, boundaries and the nature of the genre itself. This quotation probably had another feel or flavor to it in 1965 or 1968, whenever I said this, when this was just emerging than today, when one would take this type of project for granted; today it could perhaps be formalized into being some kind of “art strategy”. Today, one has become accostumed to having expectations for this type of “surprise”; one takes for granted that this idea is an important element in a strategy for making art today, but at that time you really couldn’t say that.

RM: Well, I guess it was pretty avant-garde thing to say in those times despite the fact that I think in a way we are on the same historic course.

SS: Perhaps, but what was more important than just to say that was the fact that many artists were approaching their creative activity thinking in these terms. It just became the modus operandi for making art. Maybe today, it probably has become kind of banal, no?

RM: I guess it’s just as important as before. Perhaps this is a bit of an another aspect, but for example if you think of a an individual artist and the way he or she builds a career, and the fact that after institutions and market accept, one has to follow the same trademark style in order to keep going.

SS: Indeed; the nature of art making practice has changed dramatically; both in terms of the more limited size of the territory an artist is forced to work within, and how much time he or she has to work their aesthetic backyard territory. Before our generation an artist could develop their painting or sculpture slowly and gradually over a working lifetime of 40 or 50 years. Today, it is very difficult to be able to have this type of evolution; one really has to be able to make a clearly identifiable image, become known for it, and continue to do it, while hopefully spending one’s life, money and time wisely. Once successful, the pressure is very strong to keep doing what people expect and want you to do. But this is the business side of contemporary art making, and I am not sure this was in the back of my mind then when I said what I said. Art practices have changed dramatically because the world of art itself had changed dramatically by taking on many of the characteristic values of the world of business; of ruling capitalist life. This has to do with what is now called “branding” in the corporate world; developing an image or look and try to sell or clone it as widely as possible; t-shirts, underwear, graphics, whatwever. This did not exist in the 1960s. In many respects we were like babes in the woods. There were certain people, perhaps like Joseph Kosuth, and others, who were more conscious (or unconscious) about branding and developed a very clear, easy-to-identify image. The idea of art being a “verb” instead of a “noun” sounds not uninteresting, but I am not sure what it really means today. If it wasn’t for Paul using it and incorporating it into his gallery work, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But nevertheless I do like the implications behind it; maybe does express at least my understanding at that time about opening up the possibilities of art making, which were emerging then, not just for a small group of “avante garde” artists living in the so-called “developed” world, but for everybody.

RM: Would you say that this idea is still important for you now?

SS: As I am not involved any longer in any daily-life, real way in the art world I lack a sense of the present art context; I don’t really know the concrete details of it like I did 35 years ago, so I really can’t make comparisons in that way. Even the use of the word “career” to described the life of an artist, for example, did not exist 35 years ago. Artists did not have “careers”; this was something attributed to “professional” people; lawyers, actors, bankers, etc. Many of the new attributes that the art world has developed in these past 35 years are becoming similar to the business-oriented attributes of the rock music, or the fashion world, who quickly leant how to integrate themselves into the heart of the capitalist world. Some artists managed to fit into it or adapt to it; Warhol is a genius in that regard, he was like a capitalist dream come true who could kiss anyone’s ass to be able to be part of it and also use it. It is interesting to compare someone like Warhol to Duchamp who was finishing his life when the other one was starting. How naïve Duchamp appears when one compares him to these type of business activities parading as art. While I am not a great fan of either of them, one can see a difference very clearly in their approach to art making, the art world, and the world in general.

RM: They both managed to create a field of freedom for themselves and to be able to change their ways of operation in it.

SS: Maybe they did, but the possible freedom of two artists does not tell one very much except the anecdotal; what interests me is how the art world has changed over the years, socially, politically, economically, and maybe even, emotionally, so people like Warhol can insert themselves and work within its values. I see these changes in a much more distant sense, in a much more sociological sense. It’s true that Warhol opened a certain field of the work for himself, and quickly learnt to adapt his life and his aesthetics to the business world, to the fashion world, etc., producing a type of art which, if nothing else, is all things to all people. The image of an electric chair, for example, doesn’t mean anything really; it can be a critical statement about society, the vulgarity of contemporary life, but you can also think, along with George Bush, that it is a great way to legally kill people. Warhol opened up a certain freedom for his life, but only by integrating himself completely into the values of capitalist society. And I think this is one important aspect of what happened during the last 35 years. Whatever statement I may have made about art changing expectations, should be read as part of this development. Today, one is definitely reading it in an entirely different way.

RM: I guess thirty years ago it was more of a phenomenological statement while now I think it has to do more with institutional and market aspect. But when we compare art to fashion I think that art is still very much behind in terms of business. It’s much more conservative. In fashion a designer could have several lines of production that does not have to be very much in common. And in art world you most often have a single figure and a single line of production.

SS: Well, maybe there are some artists who produce big, important high art for museums and smaller “lesser” things for galleries and collectors. I would have to look more carefully to what you have just said to see if there’s anyone working in this way. For example, maybe Keith Haring could be one of those who worked in both areas in a way. Although he is coming from a grafitti and comic book culture which also opened onto the sphere of “high” art, his work is not really a separate production, but close to it; in a similar spirit as “pop art”, while still doing T-shirts. In a certain way Lawrence Weiner tries to maneuver between these two areas also.

RM: Were there any philosophical implications to this sentence that “art is to change what you expect from it?” Gilles Deleuze was a big proponent of the same idea.

SS: I think it’s a very 1960s idea, it may have had a radical edge or epistemological edge then, but today, I think it could also be easily misread as just another wise ass remark. I can’t really see how it could be read today, as I do not recognize the world of art the way I knew it 35 years ago. Furthermore, I don’t think the world itself has evolved for the better. But, nevertheless, I am sure there are a number of artists still doing interesting things; many different actors of all colors, shapes and sizes from places that are not necessarily New York or Europe. So what this sentence could possibly mean today, you are probably in a much better position to know.

RM: Well, funnily enough my first association when I read the sentence was Miles Davis.

SS: Could be. I wouldn’t have come up with Miles Davis, but I think I understand what you mean. Yet I am sure that you could find many interesting artists working around this idea. I don’t really think that I had any specific person in mind, however, the phrase was more about an attitude, strategy or tactic in which artists would be no longer be taking anything for granted. Everything was being questioned; anything was possible. Maybe that was a bit of what was behind the idea at the time, but, frankly, who remembers?

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Silence is Golden and Paintings for a Brighter Future

Silence is Golden is a work from 2011 and is made of 6 drawings on panels, each 18″x24″ making the piece 36″x72″ in its finished state. Each panel was sanded and filled with wood filler twice before being primed and painted with the same off-white acrylic latex paint that I use for my Future Living Projects pieces. The imagery is of a model home being sequentially shattered to pieces by an atomic bomb in the Nevada desert in 1955. The series was taken by an automatic camera and shows the effects of the 35th atomic bomb test on a house built 1 mile from the point of detonation, over a period of 2.3 seconds until total demolition. I discovered the title Silence is Golden while at the movies one day while taking a break from the drawing. It was at the beginning of the movie and was meant to remind the audience to be quiet while the movie was being shown. At that moment I remembered the saying, “Loose lips sink ships” from World War 2 and thought that the two sayings were similar in their implications.

The destructive power of atomic weaponry is both frightening and awe inspiring. The imagery that I use captures a still moment, a quiet pause in time that reduces our humanity through carelessness and wanton massive destruction. I dealt with the same subject matter in the series Paintings for a Brighter Future from 2002 which shows various atomic bomb clouds painted in oils. I wanted all of these paintings to be framed in elaborate gold gilded frames with gold tags with the name of each bomb attached to them but this part of the project proved to be too costly. I did frame Operation Plumbbob (Hood) and Operation Teapot (Moth) which are shown below, but only because I already had the frames and custom made the works specifically for them. I even have an old gold light that attaches to the frame of Hood that further pushes the painting into a more classical and traditional context. These were some of the first paintings that I used for my project Associated Artists for Propaganda Research.

Silence is Golden by Brian Higbee and Associated Artists for Propaganda Research

Operation Upshot-Knothole (Badger) by Brian Higbee and Associated Artists for Propaganda ResearchOperation Hardtrack I (Umbrella) by Brian Higbee and Associated Artists for Propaganda ResearchOperation Plumbbob (Hood) by Brian Higbee and Associated Artists for Propaganda ResearchOperation Teapot (Moth) by Brian Higbee and Associated Artists for Propaganda Research

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