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Stark Lanscapes: An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes: An Interview With Sean Higgins

Sean Higgins has an alien focus. He is know for his photographic barren and warped landscapes, masses highlighted by negative space. He often casts his subjects under a permanent haze or gives them a twinkle by adding in textural dimensions. He creates modern landscapes that appear to be relics from a post-human society: they appear to be documentations of a planet whose beauty has outlived its inhabitants.

Creating uninhabited natural scenes is what Sean has become known for and very obviously is tied to a place. “It’s this stark California landscape,” he explains as he takes a seat in the living room of his Glassell Park home. “You can drive two hours from the city and be in a landscape devoid of people. None of my work has humans in it. In all of my pieces you are supposed to put yourself into them instead of seeing things in them. Especially the landscapes: there is never any trace of life. There are no houses or people or animals.”

Stark Lanscapes An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes An Interview With Sean Higgins

Sean has lived in Los Angeles for nearly twelve years after spending much of his early life in on the East coast. “I grew up kind of in rural Pennsylvania, in the Poconos. It’s where you go for your honeymoon if you live in New York and don’t have any money to travel further. It’s a little bit weird. It was a tiny town there.”

“As a kid, I guess I was always interested in drawing and in art making but I wasn’t necessarily interested in it as a career path,” he says. Sean planned to pursue science when he started college at Moravian in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He began his academic career with a major in Biology but eventually realized that it wasn’t quite right for him after having trouble with chemistry. He also found art courses to be more interesting. “If you look at what I’m doing now, the science is still there. I’m really always interested in that with my work. It can be very clinical and deals with space and is very science based.”

Stark Lanscapes An Interview With Sean Higgins

He graduated with an BA in art and was figuring out what he wanted to do next. “One of my teachers had gone to Penn and he introduced me to a bunch of his peers,” Sean continues. “He was maybe ten years older and was more or less just out of school. I thought he was super cool and I wanted to be like him. We became friends and would hang out outside of school and I met some of his friends who had also gone to Penn. It was only natural that I ended up going there to get my MFA.”

Without any pause, Sean went from undergraduate to graduate school and finished his art education relatively quickly. He did a lot of studio work while attending school as Penn’s MFA program has students making much of the time. “Penn was fun. It was very free formed and with few requirements: it was about working in your studio as much as possible. It was very self-driven and it was good to not be distracted by other requirements.”

Stark Lanscapes An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes An Interview With Sean Higgins

Sean was living in Philadelphia after school, trying to figure out what he wanted to do next and where he wanted to start his career. Having lived on the East coast for so long and not being interested in a move to New York City, Los Angeles seemed best for him. “I had a draw to come to California,” he explains. “In a way, it was more of a reaction to something I didn’t want to do which was move to New York City and be in that art world. I didn’t want to be in that cliche. Not that that is a bad thing and I wasn’t judging it in that way: it just didn’t feel like the thing that I needed to do. A lot of my peers basically moved to New York and got chewed up and spit out. It’s a tough thing.”

“I had some friends who were in Los Angeles and, when I had come out to visit, I thought it was really cool. Plus, I was really interested in this scene and the people coming out of the schools here. It felt fresh and exciting that a lot of young artists were here doing interesting things.”

Stark Lanscapes An Interview With Sean Higgins

Living in a new city and being around new people certainly influenced his work. He started to notice some differences in what he was doing. “In a funny way, the tone of the work changed,” he says. “I was making super dark work. When I moved out here, I started doing all of these plexiglass things that were landscape based. I was using semi-opaque white plexiglass and transferring inkjet prints to the back of them so they all looked like fuzzy, white, barely perceivable landscapes. The tone went form dark and more industrial to this really bright colored and bright toned thing. That happened when I moved here and I’m not sure if it was a conscious thing or not. But, I was always interested in making work that was mysterious or more about what’s not there than what is there. You’re supposed to guess what’s missing. I had this realization here that, in order to make work that is mysterious, it doesn’t have to be dark. It can be brightly toned and cheerful looking but still mysterious and moody. That’s the biggest thing I came across from moving out here.”

Stark Lanscapes An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes An Interview With Sean Higgins

“Being in this part of the world and because I’m making landscapes (even though none of it is a picture of a landscape), the source material is from a different place. And, again, a lot of the stuff I was doing then and in the beginning was from driving around California and exploring it. When the grass gets baked at the end of the wet season and there are these rolling gold hills, that was a big influence on that work. It was the color of it and the blown out sky. It’s this stark California landscape.”

Although his work can be seen as scientific, futuristic, and hyper contemporary, his work is deeply tied to classic art and the tradition of making landscapes. “A lot of it comes out of the tradition of art making that I find myself in with the history of Caspar David Friedrich making these pseudo-spiritual landscapes which, to him, they were. To me, they’re not that much. I don’t think about them in those terms. I’m definitely within that tradition which is as simple as that. Maybe it does have something to do with the absence of something in the work as the intention of the work…maybe that’s a little disconcerting, too.”

Stark Lanscapes An Interview With Sean Higgins

“The biggest influences on my work in the beginning weren’t necessarily other artists. It was Tarkovskiy films and Alphaville. I was always more interested in that in terms of influence of subject matter.”

He doesn’t see his work changing in the future as his subjects and style will always carry the same tones. He does have an urge to get his hands dirty again and to switch up how he makes art. “I started doing these pieces that are inkjet prints with powdered graphite rubbed into them. There is an impulse in my art making where everything that I do and have done in the past couple of years has been so cleaned and controlled. I spend most of my art making time staring at a computer and there’s always a backlash to it where I need to get my hands dirty. They end up looking silvery. They’re basically colored inkjet prints and the graphite sticks to the ink.”

Stark Lanscapes An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes An Interview With Sean Higgins

“It’s this really interesting place for me to experiment with changing the surface of the print. I always have this instinct to fuck up the surface of a print. Part of that comes out all this work I’ve done in the past two or three years where they get printed, go to the framer, they’re perfectly mounted and framed, and that’s the end of them. These are like the plexiglass work which had sanded plexiglass surfaces that were all essentially hand made prints. That’s one offshoot of the new stuff that I’m working on. It’s a bit messy and a bit of working on the surface. Maybe in the future, that may involve returning to painting in them or mark making on the surface. But, it’s just the beginning of this. There are only four finished pieces so far.”

Sean doesn’t see himself leaving Los Angeles either. His work may change but his personal landscape isn’t. “At this point, the only thing that I think about is my family is back on the East coast. That can be tough sometimes because I’m very close with them. That may be a reason to move back East but I like it here too much. And they like to visit.”

Stark Lanscapes An Interview With Sean Higgins

“I’m never moving again. I’ve moved way too much in this city and I’m very happy here.”

For more on Sean, be sure to check out his website. Sean also currently has work up as a part of CSUN’s Tomorrowland. Sean will also be a part of an upcoming group show at Mark Moore Gallery titled Empty Distances. It’s curated by Caryn Coleman and will be up June 15 through July 20.

Stark Lanscapes An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes: An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes: An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes: An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes: An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes: An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes: An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes: An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes: An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes: An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes: An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes: An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes: An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes: An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes: An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes: An Interview With Sean Higgins

Stark Lanscapes: An Interview With Sean Higgins

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