This week we’d like to introduce artist Brendan Higgins. Originally from Ireland, he ended up in New York via Leeds in England and Paris. He works full time as a landscape architect and paints in his spare time. Although drawing and painting has mostly been a hobby, he has been putting more focusing on developing his style in the last few years. Unsurprisingly, given his profession, landscapes and the built environment feature in most of his work. As a landscape artist, Brendan has access to some incredible locations.
Untapped: What influenced you and your creativity when you were little?
Brendan: My dad was a teacher, He taught me from age 8 to 12 and his art classes were fantastic. We would take massive sheets of paper (probably only 18″x24″, but huge when you were a kid) and paint scenes from the stories we were studying in history or the landscapes we learned about in geography. He taught us to have no fear, to break the rules, be bold with color and be expressive not formulaic. It was great stuff.
Untapped: That’s great! Did he influence your style too?
Brendan: My dad introduced me at a pretty early age to several Irish painters who made an impression on me. Patrick Collins and Jack Yates were two that stood out. I liked that their work transformed over time, figurative painters who got more expressive and loose. I remember the first time I went to the National Gallery in Dublin to see a Yates exhibition, plenty of good skillful paintings of day to day Irish life and then suddenly arriving in a room of his late work, these enormous aggressive, expressionist paintings – gestural, emotional and full of mayhem. I loved them. He may not be a “favorite” but I think I’ve been trying to paint and draw like that since, with very mixed results it has to be said.
Untapped:Are you teaching your children about art with the same approach as your dad taught you?
Brendan: To a certain extent, yes. I encourage them to paint and draw, but let them attack it as they want to. I do try and cajole them to be free and loose and not worry so much about the results. Really, I just want them to load brushes up with paint and go for it, what can go wrong?!
Untapped: How does your job influence your paintings?
Brendan: I’ve spent my entire professional life collaborating. Every project is a dialogue with architects, engineers, contractors, clients, building owners, back and forth, meetings, letters, revisions, on and on and on… Painting is the release from all of that. It provides a nice contrast, blank canvas, brushes and paint, no rules and regulations and no deadlines.
I work for a company that designs and builds roof gardens and have seen plenty of asphalt covered wastelands, under-used, under-viewed and wasted in terms of any contribution to the environmental health of the city. The rooftops are filled with character, odd structures, a mish mash of stairways, walkways, bulkheads, water towers… and then there are the views….
Untapped: You must get to see some pretty impressive views.
Brendan: I like to get out and draw. Where I live, where I visit for work or when I’m traveling, I try and get into the place by sketching and taking photographs. I use them to build paintings, sometimes by using drawings of actual places, others, by painting impressions of a place from memory. I enjoy going back and painting the same place or subject, seeing how I can develop and how it changes. It’s a good exercise, I’ve found that the more familiar and comfortable with the subject the more spontaneous and expressive the pieces become. It helps me find new techniques or approaches.
Untapped: Is there a specific landscaping project you have done in NYC that inspiresd you?
Brendan: There isn’t one in particular that stands out, but I’ve worked on projects at a variety of scales – from waterfront regeneration projects to green roofs to residential gardens. I would say that the public projects are ultimately more satisfying to work on because of the accessibility for all once completed. On the other hand designing and building residential projects (mostly roof gardens in New York City) allows for more creativity, it’s probably a more flexible and hands on process .
Manhattan Bridge from Rutgers Street (Detail)
Untapped: When did you come to New York from Ireland?
Brendan: My first visits to the States were the summers of ’95 and ’96 when I lived in Portland, Oregon where I worked on construction sites. Both times I stopped over in NYC en route and both times I ended up in Portland thinking ‘why am I here and not there? I mean, nice mountains and weather and everything but…’
I made a plan and eventually moved to New York City in May of 1999. I lived on Rivington and Pitt Street. It was an incredibly hot summer, endless days of 100+ degrees, suffocating humidity and no air conditioner. I remember the music on the streets, Salsa and Bachata everywhere. The scale of structures was something else to me, it felt like being on a movie set everyday, sometimes it still does.
Untapped: How did you get your “Chinatown Branch” twitter name?
Brendan: I have a somewhat strong interest in the fortunes of a certain soccer team from a city in the northwest of England that I’ve been obsessed with since I was a kid. Well, supporters groups of football clubs in the UK/ Ireland and beyond, are called Branches. So you’ll have the ‘London Branch’, the ‘Dublin Branch’ or the ‘New York Branch’ etc of any particular team. As I live in Chinatown I started using the name Chinatown Branch online in forums, then Twitter, then Facebook.
Untapped: What does your studio space look like? I’m always so interested to see how other artists set up their space:
Brendan: I managed to carve a little space out in my living room for my art:
If you want to see more from the talented Brendan Higgins:
Website/ Gallery — http://chinatownbranch.weebly.com/gallery.html
Online Shop – http://www.etsy.com/shop/Chinatownbranch?ref=pr_shop_more
Twitter – https://twitter.com/#!/ChinatownBranch