Review for an exhibition at Tullie House Carlisle in 1981
I first saw a piece of Raymond Higgs’ work in the Northern Artists exhibition. It was the etching called Circles. Recently he explained to me how this work came about and how the picture explores the relationship between scale and control.
First of all he drew a dot and the photographed and projected it. Then he drew a circle an inch across then one as big as his arms would reach on a wall. Lastly he drew one giant circle on the tarmac of a multi storey car park. In each case he drew rapidly. To help us compare there from he made them of similar size. What each clearly shows is the limitations of the scale of man’s ability as a draftsman. The tiny dot which seems neat enough shows all its crudities when magnified, and the car park circle wobbles its way around in an ungainly way.
When I first saw that etching it was the simplicity and gestural beauty of these circles that galvanised my attention and made me remember it. Circles now has an explanation in my mind which accompanies the image. Though I understand its concepts more it hasn’t made the image more or less exciting for me. As a picture it can stand up without explanation as a beautiful, compelling abstract form.
It was Kandinsky who said-That which belongs to the spirit of the future can only be realised in feeling, and The talent of the artist is the only road to feeling. Theory is the lamp which sheds light on the crystallized ideas of the past’. I mention this because Raymond Higgs explores scientific ideas like the limitations of vision and drawing but what is gratifying is that he seldom seems to illustrate theories. In the best works the theories are superseded by feelings.
Because of their directness and the economy of the images I like the etchings ‘Smoke’ and ‘The Irish Sea’. These qualities are also held by ‘Little Girl Skipping’ – a series of pencil drawings done in 1972. In these works Raymond manages many scientific and mathematical observations with a sense of wonder.
‘On Being Observed by at Fly’, ’Quadrat, ’Waves’, ’The Side of My Nose’ ’Rain on a Window’ and ‘Train Window’ all have their framed explanations. They are paintings which were conceived and painted over a long time and they deserve more than cursory glances. All of these, I think, are enhanced by their explanations.
It is good to see someone who is concerned to make his work more accessible to people and the efforts he goes to explain the more complicated works. At times in those he falls into some traps of assumed understanding of personalised words in the viewer/reader, and these might confuse. But his good intention is to be applauded at a time when a number of artists seem bent on maintaining a tiny narcissistic band of fellow painters/appreciators.
Finally, I must admit that I think the etchings are the best works in the show. The forced asceticism of the medium and the distilled ideas in them seem to me to be much more resolved and tar-reaching than some of the necessary but more complex paintings.
Andy Christian 1980