Brian Higgins: Inside the Studio
Article by Caroline Haller
Rendering his canvases in an Abstract Expressionist style, contemporary painter Brian Higgins allows the colors he uses to reflect his moods. Higgins is from Greenwich, Connecticut but now lives and works in Belvedere, California. Higgins has attended Deerfield Academy, Vanderbilt University, NYC Tisch Film Program and San Francisco Art Institute.
On his back patio studio, Higgins renders his canvases in an Abstract Expressionist style. To create his oil on canvas paintings, Higgins first layers paints and uses a palette knife to add color. Higgins also uses resin and mica powder to create his works.
Though many of his canvases are completely abstract, Higgins also creates cityscapes, landscapes and album covers in his unique style which combines his love of the palette knife and 1970’s technicolor with his desire to express the energy that lives in color.
In 2020, he filmed himself painting live on Facebook and he decided to take it up a notch. So, for Art Aqua Miami, he decided to paint in person. From November 30th to December 4th, Higgins’s work was featured at Art Aqua Miami in Alessandro Berni Gallery’s booths. Viewers that visited the rooms were treated to a spontaneous and energetic performance.
Brian Higgins painting at Aqua Art Miami 2022
Higgins gave viewers a special glimpse into his artistic process when he painted live at Aqua Art Miami 2022!
If you missed it, you can still purchase four of his works here: Alessandro Berni Gallery at Aqua Art Miami 2022 | Artsy
Follow him on Instagram @bhigginsart
And check out his website here
I caught up with Higgins to find out what it is like for him working in his outside studio and what album cover is up next for him. Read on below.
What is one experience that has been invaluable to you, as an artist?
The most invaluable experience I’ve had as an artist is the opportunity to make mistakes. I paint almost exclusively with oils, and it can be frustrating. It doesn’t always behave the way you want it to, especially off the palette knife. It’s ok to scrape it off when it doesn’t work and start again, which allows me to push limits when creating textures and images.
Was there a specific moment when you discovered you wanted to create art, or did it come gradually?
I was drawing Snoopys and King Kong as a little kid and always had an art class in my schedule through college. I left it behind as I pursued a career in law, but it was reawakened after my wife bought me a continuing education painting class at the San Francisco Art Institute, where I had access to collegiate professors. A few swipes of a palette knife on oil paint and I was hooked!
Can you describe your studio and what a day working on your canvases looks like for you?
We recently moved out of San Francisco to the suburbs of Marin, where I have an outdoor studio on my back patio. My 4-year-old has the run of the house, so it is easier for me to be outside where I can keep the oils and knives out of his hands. Out there, I drop the cloth, gesso the canvas, set up the easel, and start the underpainting with a brush. Once the base is complete, I start the knife work with the primary colors, and then complement the strokes with resin, metallics, or minerals (depending on the piece).
What materials and tools do you use to create your art?
I use oil paints, usually Gamblin or Sennelier, as they are vivid and rich, and an assortment of palette knives. Lately, I’ve introduced resin, metallic leafing, crushed crystals, and pigmented mica to create depth and complement the color scheme.
How do you feel your art fits within Contemporary Abstract Expressionism?
I think it exemplifies its basic characteristics, as my pieces have a lot of energy and vitality, characterized by dramatic impasto knife marks, which are spontaneously created without a structured plan. I’m inspired by Gerhard Richter, Claude Monet, and Joan Mitchell, as their emotions and passions resonate in each piece.
For your more abstracted works, such as Ocean Drive by Day, where does your inspiration come from? How do you pick your colors?
Ocean Drive by Day and Ocean Drive by Night were paintings for my first exhibition at Art Aqua in Miami during Art Basel Week, and I wanted to capture the energy of the scene, mimicking the warm, pastel visuals that paint the landscape by day, transitioning to the electric, neon bursts that cut through the twilight by night. But generally, my colors reflect my mood. I tend toward vivid technicolor. I’m a child of the 70’s and 80’s, but I do enjoy earth tones, as well, when I am feeling grounded. Mostly, I just like to play with them, as some of my favorite interplay happens with colors you wouldn’t expect; teal and brown, for example. Those surprises open up more and more possibilities for my work, which continues to adapt and react.
Ocean Drive by Day, 30”x 30”, Oil on Canvas
Ocean Drive by Night, 30” x 30”, Oil on Canvas
What do you hope to translate when you are recreating cityscapes on your canvases?
Mostly, I’m inspired by the different energies produced by each location – whether it is New York skyscrapers reflected on the Hudson, or San Francisco emerging from the fog, I choose the temperature of the colors to create the feeling you would have in each setting. My favorite example is my interpretation of Manhattanhenge, a phenomenon which happens in New York, where the sunset is aligned with the east-west streets of the street grid of Manhattan. You can see the embers of the sunset reflecting off the dark glassy canyon of 42nd street, while the bluish-purple hues of dusk await in the western sky.
Lastly, on a fun note, what is one scene/inspiration/album cover you haven’t yet painted but wish to paint very soon?
My son has discovered the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so I promised him I would paint “Return of the Dream Canteen,” as the psychedelic image appears in our car’s touch screen each time he plays it. Stay tuned! 😊