Q&A with Jesse Higman
Jesse Higman calls it “illuvium”: his unique painting technique of pouring diluted, translucent paint over black Masonite canvases laid horizontally, their surfaces contoured with rolls and swales formed by weights attached beneath. The silicated paint flows gracefully, coaxed by gravity, suggesting biology and geology, specters floating, deltas bifurcating, amoebas swimming in frozen motion.
Higman’s art, however, is not just what ends up hanging on gallery walls. The process is as compelling as the finished product. For Heineken City Arts Fest, he invites people into his Capitol Hill studio to actively collaborate in producing new work. Thursday, Oct. 18 and Friday, Oct. 19, Secret location
Have you let strangers into your studio before? Are you nervous about doing so?
Yes. We all get nervous when we get together, with the potential for what we can make together and what danger there is. My mom says you can only look someone in the eye for seven seconds before you want to kiss, kill each other or run away. I have been waiting for this.
You often do demonstrations of your creative process. What’s been the most surprising result of those audience interactions? Has it ever resulted in disaster?
I’m surprised by the potency of numbers and the energy different groups create. Each composition is so large. The variables we contribute (neighborly or oppositional), the effects of the table—all can turn the painting to the opposite of what I expect will happen. There’s a lesson in each one. There are disasters in paintings, hideous eruptions. But sometimes when I cut those pieces out and lean them against the wall, those become the favorites.
It’s totally surprising—and also makes perfect sense—that we can use these physics to create living forms like animals, cells and the cosmos, the things we see all around us. People with pasts, destinies, secrets and gifts get together, and when they stand on the edge of fear, then move forward to create, we are rewarded and see right in front of us that we are a creative force in the universe.
Do you see a correlation in action painting and music-making? Visual art and music in general?
Playing music and action painting both have that electric quality of a living entity that has to be negotiated. As mediums, they are both about going places, about acting with magic. Sound has autistic qualities for rocking. Rhythms and colors can hold us, suspending parts of us to let other parts open. Both sights and sounds can help us get around parts of ourselves to other places. Music and art are both tools for evolving us.
How does it feel to transform a blank, black void into a tiny universe?
There is something profoundly comforting in seeing the large in the small, or ourselves in the large. I know that life likes it when we celebrate, when we rise and it pushes back and we are in it together making something beautiful. And, as scary as it is to raise my arms up to the lightning on the rock, I always make sure the gods know how I feel about it.
Photo by Steve Korn.