Tag Archives: 2011

A History of Progress, Violence and the Modern Spectacle: The Trinity Test, 1945, Police Officers Examining the Mountaineering Ice Ax Used to Assassinate the Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky near Mexico City in 1940, The Hindenburg Disaster, May 6th, 1937 and The Death of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby, November 24th, 1963

Last night I shot photographs of The Trinity Test, 1945, Police Officers Examining the Mountaineering Ice Ax Used to Assassinate the Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky near Mexico City in 1940 and The Hindenburg Disaster, May 6th, 1937. The first one in this series, A History of Progress, Violence and the Modern Spectacle, was The Death of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby, November 24th, 1963. Each one is 24″x32″ and Acrylic on Canvas. This is what I wrote about them in a previous post.

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.

Here they all are individually and the last two images show them all together as they would be scene on a wall either in a grid or lined up.

The Trinity Test, 1945 By Brian Higbee and Associated Artists for Propaganda Research 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 The Hindenburg Disaster, May 6th, 1937 By Brian Higbee and Associated Artists for Propaganda ResearchThe Death of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby by Brian Higbee and Associated Artists for Propaganda ResearchPixel Paintings All Together 2

Pixel Paintings All Together

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At the Gates of Dawn, From Dawn To Dusk and New Dawn Fades

Here are 3 paintings that I made in 2010 and 2011 that are all enamel on canvas. I made the original colored pencil drawings for these back around 2001 and 2002 when I was starting to come up with some ideas for the Future Living Projects. I had originally wanted to design paintings for the future using colors from the 1970’s. The ideas for these colors came from early experiments that I did with pale blue and orange enamel latex paints on the back of plexiglass panels. When the panels were turned over the paint became flat and mimicked the panels that I would see on the sides of schools and other brightly colored buildings from the 1970’s. The panels that I made seemed to exist somewhere between sculpture and painting and I wasn’t sure at the time how these were even art and never completed the project. In the end I made only 2 panels and completed a series of computer generated drawings that illustrated the different colors as they would look when finished. I decided at the time to switch to the designing of paintings instead which provided a more traditional platform for my art making ideas.

I generally don’t like the idea of designing paintings but use the term deliberately. I feel that design is the antithesis of what art should be about. One solution that I had was to have somebody else design my paintings for me; I would essentially become only a worker. This idea appealed to me and I felt that I had reached a new forbidden area of creativity in which the artist would become liberated from design and could be creative solely as a producer of ideas and context. I thought of this as the logical extension of what Marcel Duchamp was achieving in Tu m’ and later John Baldessari for his series Commissioned Paintings which both employed other artists to paint for them. (Is it a coincidence that they both had artists painting pointing fingers?)

So I designed the paintings myself and decided that I wanted them to be long and thin to coincide with an earlier architectural project for Future Living Project’s which imagined a future with thin horizontal buildings. The first painting that I made from the colored pencil drawings was At the Gates of Dawn and was only 12″x48″. I wanted to use glossy enamels for this project since I had never used them before and wanted a change from my usual painting practice. The orange that I mixed for the painting was a color close to what I had originally used for the earlier colored panel project. Here are the final 3 paintings. The first 2′ At the Gates of Dawn and From Dawn To Dusk are 24″x84″ and are stretched over panels. The last one, New Dawn Fades, is 18″x79″.

At the Gates of Dawn by Brian Higbee and Future Living Projects From Dusk To Dawn by Brian Higbee and Future Living Projects New Dawn Fades by Brian Higbee and Future Living Projects

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Burning From the Inside

Burning From the Inside is another painting that I made in the winter of 2011 and is 12″x48″ and is acrylic on canvas over a wood panel. It gets it’s name from a Bauhaus (the band) song and is also the name of their last album. The painting was made with simple shades of grey. The innermost vertical row is white and the outside is #3 Golden Grey. The shades are, from outside in on each side, #3,#4,#5,#6,#7,#8 and white. Starting from the inside, each vertical row outwards is 1.5 times the size of the row before it. The narrow vertical black lines are each .25″ inches thick and act as a border between shades. The result is an optical illusion, causing the painting to pulsate and wave.

Here are the lyrics for the song.

Running without aim
Through the razor weeds
That only reach my knees
And when I’m lying in the gray sleep
I don’t know how to walk the boards
I open my eyes and look at the floor
And now I don’t see you anymore

There is no choice
We make a point
To counteract a threatening hand
Close my hold
Let’s be near, let’s be near the atmosphere

Running without aim
Through the razor weeds
That only reach my knees
And when I’m lying in the gray sleep
I don’t know how to walk the boards
I open my eyes and look at the floor
And now I don’t see you anymore

Any more
Any more
Any more

Burning From the Inside by Brian Higbee and Future Living Projects

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“From Safety To Where…?”

From Safety To Where…? is a painting that I made in the winter of 2011. I was interested in revisiting perspective as a compositional concern in a similar way that I had done for Journey Into the Realm of Reason. If is 24″x84″ and is gouache and acrylic latex on canvas stretched over a wooden panel. I had first explored the use of gouache and acrylic latex on an earlier painting and decided to use this technique again. I started by rolling on off-white acrylic latex, which is the same white that I like to use for my Future Living Project’s projects. I then gridded out my composition symmetrically according to a pre-determined exponential mathematical spacing formula. Starting from the center, each vertical line is 1.5″ inches the distance from the last. Starting from the middle, each horizontal line is 1.5″ inches the distance from the last and extends to the horizontal axis of the next distance, resulting in outwardly angled lines. I used black gouache to fill in the lines that were a quarter of an inch in diameter and when I was finished, blurred the edges between the black lines and the white background to create a slight hazy effect when looked at closely.

From Safety To Where…? gets its name from a Joy Division song.

Here are the lyrics for the song.

No I don’t know just why.
No I don’t know just why.
Which way to turn,
I’ve got this ticket to use.

Through childlike ways rebellion and crime,
To reach this point and retreat back again.
The broken hearts,
All the wheels that have turned,
The memories scarred and the vision is blurred.

No I don’t know just why,
Don’t know which way to turn,
The best possible use.
Just passing through, ’till we reach the next stage.
But just to where, well it’s all been arranged.
Just passing through but the break must be made.
Should we move on or stay safely away?

Through childlike ways rebellion and crime,
To reach this point and retreat back again.
The broken hearts,
All the wheels that have turned,
The memories scarred and the vision is blurred.

Just passing through, ’till we reach the next stage.
But just to where, well it’s all been arranged.
Just passing through but the break must be made.
Should we move on or stay safely away?

From Safety To Where...? by Brian Higbee and Future Living Projects

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1:4:9 and 1:4:9 (Small Scale Model) After

Here is a sculpture that I made up on Saunders Farm in Garrison, NY in 2008. I wanted to make a shoddy replica of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey in the same proportions: 1:4:9. This one is twelve feet tall by sixty inches by eighteen inches and is made entirely of quarter inch unfinished plywood and 2″x4″‘s cut to size. I built it over a 5 day period up on the farm. I had to first dig a series of trenches in the ground in order to bury the make shift base that I built for it to keep it from falling over in the wind or when the cows and horses would rub up against it. This was difficult and took the better part of a day because the sculpture was being built on a hill so all 4 corners of my base had to be at different depths in order to make the final sculpture relatively vertical. I was told that I couldn’t leave any open holes in the ground overnight since the cows and horses would come by in the evening and they could break their legs in them. I was under a lot of stress to finish before evening since I ran into difficulties trying to get the base deep enough and I remember, as it started to get dark, looking behind me and through the fog seeing a herd of cows and horses coming my way. Before I knew it one cow had its head in my open car window, and one was looking in the back of my car’s hatch and a goat was standing on top of part of my studio mate’s art piece that I agreed to take up in my car and had carelessly left on the ground. I tried to make them move but they’re big animals when they get close. Luckily I finished burying the base and covering the holes around the time it got dark. In the next couple of days I finished screwing the plywood to the sides and painting it flat black.

I was happy with the way the sculpture turned out and was eager to see how the weather would affect the finish over the three months that it would be out on the farm. I really wanted it to disintegrate over time so that when you get up close it’s obvious that it’s made of cheap plywood and poorly finished. I made no effort to cover the seams or patch over screw holes. From a distance the piece appears to be solid and pristine but up close is a simple structure made of wood and screws.

In 2011 I decided to make a small scale model of this piece that is 6″x10″x10″ (including the base) and used the same techniques that I described in my last post about building the small scale model for 186646591.

Just to clarify, I consider models to be sculptures as well and use titles as a way of differentiating contexts. 1:4:9 (Small Scale Model) After is its title and in no way takes away from its appreciation as a sculpture.

 149 by Brian Higbee and Associated Artists for Propaganda Research 149 Small Scale Model (After) by Brian Higbee and Associated Artists for Propaganda Research

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186646591 Version 2 (Small Scale Model) and Drawings

Here is a small scale model that I finished in 2011 of the sculpture 186646591. It is a sculpture of a barcode. I made an earlier version in 2009 that had a much larger base which is why this one is version 2. This one has a small white “pedestal” base that I made for it and is 6″x10.5″x10.5″. I’ve used this type of pedestal base many times over the years, both large and small. I use it to frame my landscapes and to neaten their final appearance. I actually came up with the idea for 186646591 when I was in graduate school around 1999. I was interested in building a large outdoor sculpture in wood on the campus lawn that would be symbolic of the institution’s main goals. It would be symbolic, pop and minimalist all at the same time.

I started by figuring out how many “bars” I would need and buying 2 different thicknesses of balsa wood according to how many of each I would need. I worked out the proper dimension for the final piece and cut the balsa wood pieces down to the size I needed. I used small finishing nails that I then cut down to size and stuck them into the bottom of each piece of wood, leaving about a quarter of an inch sticking out of the bottom. I painted each piece of wood flat black with acrylic latex paint. I cut my base according to size and painted it green. When it dried I covered it with watered down Elmer’s glue and sprinkled foam railroading “grass” on it with a glass grated cheese shaker. This is a mixture that I made myself using 2 different colors of green. After it dried I turned it sideways and shook off the grass that didn’t glue to the base. I then measured out the spaces for each pin on the base with a pencil and drilled out each hole. I finished by pushing each balsa wood “bar” with a pin in it into each corresponding hole in the base and adjusted them so they were straight. In order to refurbish the model From version one to version two I first had to take off the original balsa wood pieces that make up the “bars” so that I could transfer them to a smaller piece of wood. I repeated the process without having to make the balsa wood pieces again.
I made a series of drawings of the sculpture as it will appear when it’s finished. I used the techniques from my three dimensional drawing class that I described in the I Was A Landscape In Your Dream post to accurately draw it in perspective and add shadows.
I’ve submitted the proposal to build and exhibit this sculpture many times but it has always been rejected. It may never get built. I guess no ones wants to see a giant sculpture of a bar code.

186646591 Small Scale Model by Brian Higbee and Associated Artists for Propaganda Research186646591 Perspective Drawing with Shadow by Brian Higbee and Associated Artists for Propaganda Research186646591 Perspective Drawing by Brian Higbee and Associated Artists for Propaganda Research186646591 Scale Drawing by Brian Higbee and Associated Artists for Propaganda Research

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An Object for a Future I’ll Never See and Future Living Projects

My friend Ben Knight hosts a show every year at the Vale of Cashmere in Prospect Park called Our Ocean is a Park. This year I did a piece called An Object for a Future I’ll Never See which was made using a 24″x24″x3/4″ piece of smooth plywood painted white. My idea was to make an object that would be submerged part way in the swampy water, creating the illusion that it was bigger than it initially appeared. I had gotten the title from an idea for a series of paintings called, surprisingly enough, Paintings for a Future I’ll Never See which I have yet to make. This is part of a project that I call Future Living Projects which I’ll try and explain at another time. Here is a link to the catalog. Below is a statement that Ben, an artist himself, kindly wrote for the online catalog he created about the show.

Brian Higbee and the Future Living Project’s contribution to the show, An Object for a Future I’ll Never See, came in the form of a SuperStudio-esque object. Much like SuperStudio’s 1969 Continuous Monument: An Architectural Model for Total Urbanization, (see website) it questions the limits of an object and how we perceive and conceive it’s dimensions. Does the object extend to the center of the Earth? Or possibly to the other side of the Earth? Similar to Piero Manzoni’s Socle Du Monde (Pedestal for the World) (see website) we are to question the space and context around the object, more than the object itself.

Here is an image of the piece as it was installed in the park and below that is an image of the piece from the year before called Tip of the Iceberg.

An Object for a Future I'll Never See by Brian Higbee and Future Living ProjectsTip of the Iceberg by Brian Higbee and Future Living Projects

 

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All Memories are Traces of Tears and What Is, From the Light Above, In the Flat Field, Unknown Pleasures and What Should Never Be

Here is another pixel painting that I did in 2010 called All Memories are Traces of Tears (Le Muerta ll: for MZ) that I exhibited at the beginning of 2011 at St. Cecilia’s. The canvas is 24″x84″ and was made using 2.5″ squares this time. The piece is based on Holbein’s well known elongated skull from The Ambassadors which shows a distorted skull at the base of the painting which must be viewed at an angle in order to be fully recognizable. I exhibited the painting on a pedestal that I built, laying it flat on top with the front facing the entrance so that the skull could be fully viewed upon entrance into the space. The pedestal was made 4′ high so that the viewer only needed to crouch down a little bit and turn there head at a slight angle in order to grasp the illusion. All of my pixel paintings are a bit rough in their finish upon close inspection. The reason for this is two fold: The first is that I usually have a lot of pixels to paint and the second is that in order for the illusion to work the viewer must be at a distance so it doesn’t make a difference in the end. I also like the difference between the experience of the painting as it appears rough and slightly unfinished up close and smooth and perfect from a distance. All Memories are Traces of Tears is the only pixel painting that I painted twice in order to smooth out its finish and cover the canvas completely with paint. I knew that people would be viewing the painting up close and I wanted the painting to look “more” finished. I also painted the sides of this piece black because the white sides were distracting when I displayed the piece flat and to make it feel more like an object. Putting it on a pedestal flat almost made it feel like a table at a mortuary and reminded me of Mantegna’s Lamentation of Christpainting.

St. Cecilia’s used to be a nunnery but had fallen into disrepair over the years. I was lucky enough to get my own room and decided to install my paintings so that they would be lit with minimal light, giving the room a quiet and still feeling. I thought that painting on the pedestal was very effect as you entered the room, and had an almost “religious” feeling to it. The title All Memories are Traces of Tears was taken from the beginning of Won Kar Wai’s 2046. La Muerta ll is Death in Spanish and there was an original Le Muerta so this one became the second one. MZ is my friend Mirelle whose mother had recently died and wanted to dedicate the piece to her. I titled the installation, which consisted of 6 paintings, What is and What Should Never Be which is actually a title of a Led Zeppelin song. Here is the work as it appears on the wall and again in its final placement on a pedestal.

In 2009 and 2010 I did 2 pieces that I also included in this exhibition. One is called Unknown Pleasures and the other one is called In the Flat Fields and both are named after albums (Joy Division and Bauhaus). I wanted to see how abstract I could make my paintings using pixels while still making them recognizable. These paintings are 12″x12″ and are made with 144 one inch squares. For these I painted directly on the panels in order to experiment with a smoother finish. The illusion doesn’t quite work at this level of abstraction. I had planned on making more, some with color, but decided that I had achieved what I wanted to know and didn’t need to make any more. Ultimately I needed imagery to make my abstractions from but in the end, thought that the idea was a little hokey. Here they are.

All Memories Are Traces of Tears by Brian HigbeeAll Memories Are Traces of Tears from What Is and What Will Never Be (Installation View) by Brian Higbee All Memories Are Traces of Tears from What Is and What Will Never Be by Brian HigbeeIn the Flat Fields by Brian HigbeeUnknown Pleasures by Brian Higbee

I also included 3 paintings of lights in the exhibition. The main one, which can be see in the photo below, is called From the Light Above from 2009 and is 30″x48″. It is an oil painting and I used a simple traditional painting technique in order to achieve a more traditional effect. This involves using a diluted down light coat of Ultramarine Blue under the areas that are going to be black. The theory is that the human eye will “read” the blue that is under the black, creating a rich and slightly tinted hue. I leave the area that is going to be white (the light) the color of the white primer and paint this area with a titanium white acrylic in order to further make the whiteness “pop” in it’s finished state. I mix my own blacks using Sienna Brown and Ultramarine Blue but it’s important to make sure that I’ve mixed enough because if I don’t it will be impossible to mix the same exact color again and the difference will be seen;I would pretty much have to start over. After the black paint is applied I use an old balled up T-shirt to start tamping the paint in order to eliminate the brush strokes. It’s important not to let the T-shirt get wrinkles in it or it’ll start leaving patterns all over the surface. It’s important to keep restretching the t-shirt. It takes a little while to build up the right tack but once the T-shirt is nicely saturated I start at one end of the canvas and use a light rocking motion in order to cover the entire black surface. It’s also important to do this in the right light so that the effects can be properly seen and mistakes can be eliminated before the surface is dry. Because I paint so thinly my paintings tend to dry within a week or two which is a comfort since wet paintings are a pain to keep clean while they’re still drying. This painting is also stretched over a panel that I made, creating a good resistance for the technique that I described above. When the painting is finished and completely dry, I varnish it with a Matte Golden UVS varnish which will protect it from both light and dirt. Here is what I wrote about it:

From the Light Above represents one of mankind’s greatest inventions, light, and delivers it in one of its cheapest and most efficient form, fluorescent.

Here’s the painting.

From the Light Above by Brian Higbee

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