#44: Joe Higgins
Artist and monotype master Joe Higgins, a Denver stalwart with roots in the deep-seated local co-op community, paid his dues over more than thirty years here as a printmaker and mentor at Open Press and the Art Students League of Denver, where he teaches workshops. Through it all, Higgins has continued to keep a low profile while doing what he loves, showing work in exhibits all over the state and sharing the tricks of the trade with countless students. Needless to say, he’s one of many key players in Denver’s Month of Printmaking, now in progress. When he’s not being helpful or printing up sketchy landscapes simplified into dreamy shapes, Higgins finds time to chew up books by the dozens and keep up with news in the soccer world. Also, he’s a good writer. See for yourself when he answers the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Joe Higgins: Music has always been my go-to. Mostly punk or power pop played at unhealthy volumes, but Philip Glass and others, as well. I do get inspiration, indirectly, from words, too. A phrase or word from Pynchon or Melville might obsess me in the studio for a month or two. I binged mightily on Emily Dickinson for a year and composed an entire Zip 37 show around her work. I don’t really feel I scratched the surface.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
Paul Klee for his poetic thoughts on art and teaching. Sarah Vowell for her hilarious geekery. Black Francis for accompaniment. If it were four, then Julia Child would be pretty much a no-brainer, but I guess we can call out for pizza instead.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
The boom in Denver is bringing more resources, and Month of Printmaking and Meow Wolf are things we wouldn’t have seen in the early days. But it's also hurting “legacy” pioneers like Open Press and Pirate. It’s sad to see icons from my rowdy youth forced to leave the city limits. There should be much more civic support for those institutions, though I recognize that the lack of organization on the artists’ part sometimes doesn’t help. Change, though inevitable, is hard.
What got you interested in printmaking in the first place?
Though I’d had the usual complement of printmaking classes in school—lithography, etching, etc., I didn’t get hooked until Mark Lunning started Open Press and introduced me to monotype. Monotype loosened me up and appeals to my sense of transformation as creative act. I also do polymer etching and drypoint, but usually as an extension of, or in service to, monotype.
Are trends worth following? What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?
I think I’m a bit out of the loop to be fluent in trends. However, printmaking is in a bit of flux right now, with the profusion of digital media and the hybrids and interactions that result, so I do try to keep up at least superficially. In my own work, I try to add new influences on a regular basis — this can be other printmakers, but, surprisingly perhaps, some of them come from students in my classes.
I love the trend toward the personal and identity in art. It will be seen as an early call to action in the history of progressive change. But it’s not for me. I prefer the universal — schematic landscapes or interiors, open-ended stories that people can enter into with their own narrative. I’m probably a little too lost in my ongoing projects to really be considered a trend guy.
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as an artist?
I’ve had honors and generally been treated well by galleries, scribes and institutions. But I’m proud of my endurance — I’ve produced each year since leaving school. Some years better than others, to be sure. I’m not sure that counts as something people call an accomplishment, but the obstacles are many, and it keeps my heart beating. I’m impressed by others who have done this, too.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
It’s a love/hate for me! To directly answer the question, though I’ve sometimes fantasized about cashing out and going back east as an arts homesteader in some reviving Rust Belt city like Detroit or Buffalo, I would miss the sun and the green chile and tamales. People are supportive here.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Mark Lunning of Open Press comes to mind quickly. I’ve worked at his shop from the late ’80s, and his support and faith and generous nature have been a constant since then. I’ll cheat and add in the students at the Art Students League. Through years of raising kids and trudging through day jobs, they’ve never lost the urge to find that creative spark. It's an inspiration to me.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
Travel, travel, travel. From Wyoming to Dublin to Barcelona to the World Cup; I just haven’t done enough.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
Large work. I feel that only in larger work does your idea begin to breathe, to open up and stretch its legs, and to lose the clutter and dead weight and begin to ascend and progress. I did a lot of large work in earlier years, but in the frenzy of daily survival, shows and sales and the difficulty of storing, I think one can lose that. I’m going to do fewer shows and more studio time.
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Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
I think communities in art, places like the Art Students League of Denver, PlatteForum, RedLine, Art Gym and even small outlying districts in Lakewood and Trinidad will play a huge role in knitting society back together in these fragmented, polarized times. I’d be lonely if I couldn’t have the kinds of conversations I have at ASLD. I'll bet a lot of people feel that way about art groups.
See work by Joe Higgins in the Mo’Print 2018 exhibits Master Printmakers and Print Educators in Colorado, through April 8 at the McNichols Building, 144 West Colfax Avenue, and Hand-Pulled: Mark Lunning's Open Press, through April 30 at the PACE Center, 20000 Pikes Peak Avenue, Parker. Visit the Mo’Print home page for more information. This summer, look for Joe Higgins at the Art Students League of Denver’s 2018 Summer Art Market on June 9 and 10 at the ASLD, 200 Grant Street.