Charlie Higgins is a 27-year-old artist and yogi who first came to Buenos Aires in 2002 planning to study for a year. The city’s stirring airs, however, have kept him here ever since. Originally from Indiana in the US, one of his current projects is to put three of his paintings in the ground in locations that are important to him; St Louis, Missouri; Portland, Oregon and Buenos Aires. In this interview he waxes lyrical about his experimental form of ‘gravity’ painting, meditation and the inspirational vegetables in his beloved barrio: Almagro.
Why did you decide to come to Buenos Aires?
I got to Argentina because of a few circumstances. At one point I was living in Spain and Argentine friends told me that the University of Buenos Aires was free, so I decided to come because in the US it costs about US$30,000 a year to go to university.
So what happened when you first arrived back in 2002?
When I arrived I found a students’ residence that was very special. It was small and had an interesting spirit. I lived there with 17 Argentine guys and still have three friends that I made during that time. It was total immersion!
Are there any things you miss about living in the US?
Nothing that I really miss… but I’m not from a big city, I’m from a small town, so when I go back to the US it’s nice to return to the time and place that I’m from and be able to get into that environment again. I find that here, sometimes, there’s a lot of concrete, a lot of people and a very fast rhythm of life. It’s nice to go back and relax in a smaller setting.
What’s your favourite thing about Buenos Aires?
I really like my neighbourhood Almagro. I like the restaurants, vegetable markets and the trees in the neighbourhood. And the sunshine and light that Buenos Aires has. Also, the people that I’ve met in Buenos Aires have been very interesting for my life and work.
I know that you’ve travelled a lot, is Buenos Aires the most special place in the world for you?
I was only planning on staying here for a year to study, but within a few months I’d bought a house in Almagro. One thing led to another. I always said the air in Buenos Aires is very viscous, it’s almost like you can touch it and so I became very inspired. It was all very natural. I never had a big plan or lots of options that made me go wild for Buenos Aires, but very simple things that felt very special to me. I thought: “Wow!” This is where it’s at!
You write quite a bit of your blog in Spanish. Do you do that because Spanish allows you to express yourself in a different way?
I love the play between English and Spanish words. When I write in Spanish I like being able to look at it from an English point of view. It’s the same when I write in English. Spanish has a sing-songy way of opening up the various structures. English can be like speaking with a potato in your mouth. I like trying to make English have a bit more of a rhyme and rhythm to it.
On your blog you explain that you combine pigments and other mediums on a horizontal surface to create experimental paintings that grow. How did this idea occur to you?
Well, I lived in a house with other artists. We formed the ‘Grupo Lila’. We had a big house in Constitución and more space. We bought enamel paints, which are different to oil paint because of the chemical components, to be able to cover big surfaces because they’re cheaper and more plastick-y. I started by having, just coincidentally, wood on a flat surface. I decided that first I would light candles because I like the way a candle melts and creates its own form. Around that I decided to mix enamel paint to create the ground for the painting. I actually had a Mozart symphony on, I think, and as I started mixing the colours – like a conductor with a knife – they started to create these natural water and gasoline mixtures. They’re like two substances that do mix and, at the same time, don’t mix. They drew themselves together through gravity towards the centre of the canvas. If the paint is viscous it will move quickly towards the centre, but there are other paints that are heavier, like landmasses, and the paint flows around them. It’s a lot of learning experiences.
So although you sort of know what’s going to happen there are still elements of the painting that surprise you?
Every single day there’s a step back and a “wow!” said because of chemical reactions or the way things just naturally make themselves. It’s not preconceived it’s something that has its own life force.
Do you have a favourite artist?
Sure, my uncle Bob has been my biggest inspiration. Naturally I like Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Jackson Pollock, Sigmund Holt and Andy Warhol, but I also love the person I was with as a young kid. When I was old enough I would drive down to Louisville from Indiana to stay with my uncle for the weekend, we’d smoke pot together. As a young person I could let go a bit, marvel at life. I’d wake up in his apartment and see his paintings on the walls which he’s been doing for 40 years. I’d see his dedication to that and hear his stories about his art, where he was when he painted certain pieces because he’s lived in New York and San Francisco. It’s good as a young person to have someone who opens your horizons.
Are your art and your yoga related? On your website I saw your paintings of certain yoga postures.
Yeah, I made those paintings to give as cards to my students. If you just write down lesson times on a plain piece of paper it tends to get lost or thrown in the trash. So I decided to do those little paintings that were my way of giving my cards out. My yoga and my painting is very integrated. When I’m painting, just like in a yoga position, I’m trying to see if I am thinking, feeling or if I have sensation.
So painting is kind of like meditation for you?
Yes. When I have a gesture, which is my way of interacting with the surface, I can either be painting and just be painting, or I might be thinking about what I’m going to have for dinner, or whatever else. If I’m painting and I start thinking about other things I lose touch with the painting and something that’s not pure or transparent happens. Whenever a thought comes I detach myself from it and go back to painting. It’s so hard for humans to stop all the thoughts, slow down and say I just want to paint. Such a simple thing. Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest things to do.
To find out more about Charlie Higgins’s art work or yoga lessons visit his website: www.higginscharlie.com