To be honest, this installment of Let’s Yak About Art has been rolling around in my head for several months. I was fortunate enough to attend the gallery opening of Jesse Higman‘s Illuvium exhibit back in December. While the gallery, Vermillion, was intimate, the transformation of the space to best highlight Higman’s work was breath-taking. I’ll let the video speak for the gallery itself. His art work— luscious, mineral, organic— and more specifically, the process of their creation, spoke to me. It marries the fundamental human need to plan, configure, plot and build with the beautiful reality of chaos and surprise we are thankfully blessed with.
Each Illuvium painting started as a flat piece of black masonite. The basic flat nature of the masonite is shaped on a specially designed “table” where hills are created by raised area, and valleys are made by weighted objects below the table, further transforming the masonite. A hole is often drilled in the masonite “canvas” for the flowing paint, diluted acrylic paint mixed with mica flakes, to escape.
The word Illuvium refers to the material accumulated through the illuviation process, which is where soil particles flushed out from one layer build up in another layer. Illuvium is created through the culmination of the painting process Higman uses to lay paint onto his formed boards. The lion’s share of the creative process goes into designing how the masonite will be formed on the table, to create the hills and swales the paint will flow over to reach its escape hatch. When he finally reaches the pour stage, he has one shot to let the paint flow, settle, drain and dry, which takes approximately 15 minutes. He’s found that double pouring the paint destroys the energy of the work, like cancer eats away at healthy cells.
As you peruse the paintings of the Illuvium exhibit, you’ll notice the color spectrum used is pretty specific. Blues, white, reds, yellow and orange make up most of the color. The exhibit’s paintings further fall into organic classes: animal, cellular, mineral, theoretical. I enjoyed his nod to Goya in Saturn Devouring His Children. The layout of each canvas, in my opinion, is an eco-system reacting with the masonite, the flow the paint traveled, where the hole(s) are located, the way light hits the mica flakes and the background the artwork hangs on. It may not be as noticeable in the photos but the organic nature of each work is palpable. It really comes alive when you have the chance to see one of Higman’s paintings in person.
It’s interesting that the organic relationship within an Illuvium painting is so striking, because Higman’s pouring process is often communal in nature. Here’s a quote from curator Leanne Mella, regarding his Illuvium work featured in the June 2010 Smithsonian show Revealing Culture,
“Higman’s work, with its communitarian and convivial ethos, exhibits many of the tendencies associated with Relational Aesthetics, a theory of art practices that takes the whole of human relations and social context into consideration as a point of departure for the production and presentation of the work of art.”
My favorite painting featured in the Vermillion exhibit was M Theory. My camera phone photo (to the right) does not do the painting justice, but I love to look at it anyway because it includes Jesse’s words about the painting. Named for Edward Witten‘s “M” Theory, I was drawn to the painting’s multi-dimensional feel. “M” theory is a type of string theory, both identifying 11 dimensions and trying to unify five string theories. Most of it is over my head, but the ripples and layered feel, with a peep at the subsequent layers of dimension, draws me in each time I look at it.
You may be familiar with some of Higman’s work already. If you were a fan of Seattle’s grunge scene of the 90s, or have toured the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, you may have come across Higman’s art. His Illuvium art has been projected over the Seattle Symphony at Beneroya Hall. He is also an accomplished photographer.
To top it all off, this immensely high-energy, creative talent is wrapped up in the most kind, curious soul. Like Witten’s “M” Theory, Jesse Higman is multi-dimensional and difficult to capture adequately. In trying to wrap my mind around his artistic thought process, and his paintings’ lifeforce, the mental and psychological exercises I go through definitely stretch me. It’s is overwhelmingly worthwhile. Go ahead, give it a try. It is definitely worth the effort, even if a conclusion eludes you, as it has me. Maybe that’s the point.