Tag Archives: 2012

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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Save the Last Dance for Me and These Flags Were Never Supposed to Fly

Save the Last Dance for Me and These Flags Were Never Supposed to Fly are 2 paintings from this last summer. They are both based on photos that I took. The photo of the disco ball is from many years ago. I found it in a group of photos from a show that my band had played at a bar called the Boogaloo about 7 years ago and thought that it would make a good painting. The other one, These Flags Were Never Supposed to Fly, was a photo that I took in the Catskils the summer before. It was taken in a parking lot. Both of them are 24″x32″ and are oil on canvas. Save the Last Dance for Me was painted with very expensive Cadmium Red. I had originally used it in the series Ten Great Paintings About Ten Great Philosophies, but quickly decided that I wanted it to be used outside of that context. I was instead interested in using it as a token of sentiment and an indication of personal loss. I was also particularly drawn to painting the patterned reflections of the passing lights on the ceiling.
For These Flags Were Never Supposed to Fly I was interested in the differences between the flags as a foreground, abstract object and its relationship to the “realistic” background sky. The flags are “flat,” made only with the colors red, white and blue and the sky is painted with an ominously dark cloud appearing in the upper right hand corner. I also like that the string of flags second from the top runs in the opposite direction, so instead of being red, white and blue is blue, white and red. In the end, I thought that the composition was a little too “designed.” I tend to like my paintings “centered” to avoid the problem of designed compositions.

Save the Last Dance for Me by Brian Higbee These Flags Were Never Supposed To Fly by Brian Higbee

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Future Living Project’s Good Design Is Good Living

Today I framed 10 collages titled Future Living Project’s Good Design Is Good Living. I made them at the very end of 2011 and framed them with some cheap white frames that I found at IKEA. Not the best frames or the best mats (not archival) but I figured that it was better than nothing. The title is a little self mocking and the collages themselves were meant to mimic the look of radical architectural theorists of the 60’s and 70’s. Like Rem Koolhaas’ Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture, The Strip, Project, Aerial Perspective and SuperStudio’s Continuos Monument, I was interested in presenting a discourse on the relationship of the object/architecture to the political and social subject. I wasn’t particularly interested in depicting an overall unifying system of meaning but rather in showing an assortment of contexts between individuals and their surrounding landscapes. For some of the collages I used computer print outs of my own paintings as visual elements. The Invention Of The Isotropic Surface uses a part of Journey Into the Realm of Reason and All Things Future Living Projects uses From Safety ToWhere…? and At the Gates of Dawn. For all of the collages I first found black and white landscapes that I scanned, cropped and scaled to size. I then printed them on quality drawing paper. I had an assortment of cut out images from old magazines and a book on Ralph Lauren that I used as source material. I arranged these elements according to how I thought they best completed the overall composition; I tried to keep the amount of cutouts that I used to a minimum for each collage. The individual titles were all meant to reflect what the final collages represented and were all made using a list of vocabulary words that I had from some of John Miller‘s writings; I kept the list in order to better help remember their definitions. Here are the titles, in order, for the five works below.

Future Living Project’s Good Design Is Good Living: Prologue- The Monument (Continual)
Future Living Project’s Good Design Is Good Living: The Invention Of The Isotropic Surface
Future Living Project’s Good Design Is Good Living: The Capital Is Yet To Be Seen
Future Living Project’s Good Design Is Good Living: This Life Is No Longer Yours
Future Living Project’s Good Design Is Good Living: Epilogue- Our History Is Not Yet Written

Good Design is Good Living-Prologue-The Monument (Continual) by Brian Higbee and Future Living Projects Good Design Is Good Living-The Invention Of The Isotropic Surface by Brian Higbee and Future Living Projects

Good Design Is Good Living- The Capital Is Yet To Be Seen by Brian Higbee and Future Living ProjectsGood Design Is Good Living- This Life Is No Longer Yours by Brian Higbee and Future Living ProjectsGood Design Is Good Living- Epilogue- Our History Is Not Yet Written by Brian Higbee and Future Living Projects

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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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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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Stars are the Diamonds of the Poor

So I actually finished Stars are the Diamonds of the Poor sometime last week but waited until this weekend to arrange them in their proper order. I was thinking about doing another universe painting/drawing for quite a while and had even experimented with doing it in gouache but decided that it was going to be a lot of work and I didn’t really like the look. I put the idea aside but eventually stumbled upon the idea of using blackboard paint for another piece that I began working on of the sun. I thought the effect of white chalk on blackboard paint would be a good one and decided that it would be good to use for this project as well. I had originally thought that I would use one large panel for the piece and then settled on 3 smaller panels (18″x18″. I eventually made 6) for my initial start. I bought the panels and wood filled and sanded them twice, making sure that all of the edges of the surfaces where smooth and weren’t splintering. I vacuumed them and then wiped them down with a damp sponge. I primed them with grey acrylic primer, sanded them and then painted them. I used the white chalk pencils to make stars with. Sometimes after I sharpened the pencil, dust would explode onto the panel creating a seemingly massive cluster of debris. Each panel took about 6 hours to fill completely. About 2 weeks ago I worked on a test panel to try and figure out what kind of flat finish I could use in order to fix the white charcoal and protect the surface. It turns out that Matte fixative actually has a glossy sheen to it and I’m really interested in preserving the flatness of the original surface. Luckily, through testing, I found that Matte Varnish will preserve the flatness of the original surface. It’s about as clear of a coating as I could hope to find.

I thought a lot while making Stars are the Diamonds of the Poor of how the piece exists somewhere between abstraction and “representational” work, walking the line between the two. This is a theoretical and aesthetic position that I enjoy exploring the most I think. This piece reminds me a little of Vija Celmins’s Night Sky work and I thought about enhancing some of the star clusters with further detail but decided that I’d rather keep it abstract and allow the viewer to complete the illusion for themselves. I like the simplicity of the idea of creating a drawing of the universe, and in 6 parts makes it a little humorous. I also like the idea that the universe is so vast that there’s no possibility for fact checking on the accuracy of my star making; it certainly isn’t anywhere near our galaxy.

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Ten Great Paintings About Ten Great Philosophies and Stars Are the Diamonds of the Poor

I’ve been working on a series of 6 panel drawings/paintings for the past couple of weeks. The panels are all 18″x18″ and are made with black chalkboard paint and white charcoal. Its called Stars are the Diamonds of the Poor, which was taken from W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage. The subject matter is the universe, a subject that I’ve dealt with in the past. The first time was for part of a series called Ten Great Paintings About Ten Great Philosophies which is sort of a tongue in cheek approach to art making. The paintings were all meant to be metaphors for different philosophies of life, not in any concrete way, but as loose interpretations based on images that I wanted to paint. The title always seemed a little too pretentious to me and I hesitate to use it, but it was a context that I needed to tie these pieces together. I like the idea of painting something as mundane as a blowfish but then recontextualizing it and giving it meaning outside of its ordinary confines. In order to further elaborate on the absurdity of such a context, I decided to never make all 10 of the paintings, rendering the claims of the title obsolete. An inside joke I guess. I’ve also pulled pieces in and out over the years, giving them different titles and different contextual situations but then returning them to the series later on. I started the series back in 2003 and occasionally add a new painting to the series. Im up to 7 right now. The Hawk and The Tower are relatively large pieces compared to the rest of the work in the series and are 78″x48″. At this time I was using the Golden Mean to determine my canvas sizes and I also think that these pieces were the first ones where I stretched canvas over panels. Below are some of the photos from the series. The titles include The Puffer Fish, The Dictator, The Hawk, The Tower, The Universe, The Chinese Finger Trap and The Rollercoaster.

Ten Great Paintings About Ten Great Philosophies (The Puffer Fish) by Brian HigbeeTen Great Paintings About Ten Great Philosophies (The Hawk) by Brian HigbeeTen Great Paintings About Ten Great Philosophies (The Tower) by Brian HigbeeTen Great Paintings About Ten Great Philosophies (The Chinese Finger Trap) by Brian Higbee

All are oil on canvas except The Tower which was rolled with acrylic latex for the background and drawn with marker and then rolled over again with diluted acrylic latex in order to make it look like fog; The Hawk which has an acrylic latex background; The Universe which was made with glossy black spray paint on a homemade panel with flecks of glossy white enamel for stars; The Rollercoaster which was black tempera on museum board. The Universe panel eventually warped and then I scratched it to the point of being unrepairable. I like the idea of pieces being destroyed as an annotation to the title, especially for The Universe. Later I made a drawing of the universe while on vacation in Cape Cod. I had originally wanted to draw directly from the sky but it is an impossible task. The stars will not stay in focus long enough to make any concrete observations. I decided to make it up and every night I would draw by the light of a kerosine lamp for a couple of hours.

Ten Great Paintings About Ten Great Philosophies (The Universe) Drawing by Brian Higbee

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

Here’s a photo I took in the studio of the painting Police Officers Examining the Mountaineering Ice Ax Used to Assassinate the Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky near Mexico City in 1940. It’s maybe a third of the way done.

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And again, here’s the original photo that it’s based on.

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The Hindenburg Disaster, May 6th, 1937

Here is another pixel painting that I finished in July of this year. This image is actually one of the first images that I had used when I started the Associated Artists for Propaganda Research. The name came from a series of crudely made xerox promotional posters that I did in school all with a slogan, an image and a fake organization. The poster for the Hindenburg said “The Disaster Factor” at the top and on the bottom said Associated Artists for Propaganda Research. I don’t remember what the other posters said. I think there were 10 in all. Here’s an image of it:

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I wanted them to be akin to DYI punk posters. Early AAPR promotional material all mimicked this style until I decided to give the operation a slicker and more professional look. At some point I’ll probably post a more concise history of the AAPR and the work that went along with it. Here’s a photo that I took of the Hindenburg painting. It’s called The Hindenburg Disaster, May 6th, 1937. Below it is a photograph of it in the studio from a slight distance. To the right is the painting The Death of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby, 1963.

The Hindenburg Disaster, May 6th, 1937 Brian Higbee and Asociated Artists for Propaganda Research

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