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Saturday, August 29, 2015

An Open Letter to Jose Higuera

The paintings of Jose Higuera. Is talent enough?

Spanish artist, Jose Higuera
Señor Higuera--

I was somewhat surprised to receive your unsolicited e-mail last week. No other artist has ever before written me suggesting I showcase his or her work. I must say I was as skeptical as I was curious in drawing up your Website to see what you have to offer. Then as I skimmed through your figural paintings, any skepticism quickly waned. Your two paintings of Jose (above) won me over. As you may or may not know, I seldom write regarding living artists (unless they're barely living). There are just too many of them, most just as talented as yourself. And like them, I consider your art, your life, and your career to be a "work in progress." I'm not in the advertising or public relations business, nor do I consider myself an astute art critic. So what I have to say here is, at best, a personal opinion with all the individual biases that entails, far more than learned criticism. However, quite apart from your work, the fact that you have written me as you did indicates an exceptional attribute I wish to highlight. It's one every artist should possess. You are audacious. I admire that.
Woman 2, Jose Higuera
Elena, Jose Higuera
You are at an important point in your career. If my math is correct, you are about forty-nine years old. That means more than half your life is already history. Your Spanish heritage is set in stone. Your self-taught skills and style are fully developed. Your talent for seeing and your aesthetic instincts are well-honed. Judging only by your highly professional Website,, you seem to know what you want from your art and your life. A great many artists of your caliber, even some well beyond your years, cannot say that. As a portrait artist, I have long admired painters who can handle the beauty of he human figure without being salacious. You have a knack for capturing sensual beauty and striking, high-contrast color which, quite frankly, I envy. It must be the sunlight of northern Spain. I also like the fact that this trait carries over into your handling of young people as well. Your Woman 2 (above) is seductive, and all the more so in that she's not nude. In the same vein Elena (left) has a latent sensuality without the sexual overtones.

Rock Lover, Jose Higuera
La Voluntad, Jose Higuera
On the male side of the ledger, I'm impressed to find an artist who can (and will) handle masculine image with the same style and mindset as you've exhibited in your female figures. I hope the model for Rock Lover (above) didn't get a sunburn. Few artists like to work in the harsh rays of direct sunlight, and fewer still do so as effectively as you do. The highlighted flesh tones seem to melt into your sun drenched setting. That's also the case with your white on white clothing in La Voluntad (right). Personally, however, I prefer a natural setting as to one involving an improvised drapery. Doesn't anyone in Spain wear shoes? Although your public presentation of your art doesn't feature portraits, I have to wonder, given your skill with figures of both genders and all ages, why you don't venture into such efforts. Yes, it's demanding, perhaps the most demanding form of art there is, but let me encourage you to rise to the challenge. I'd like very much to see what you could do.

Manhattan, Jose Higuera
Now, as to your other work. Although I especially like your Manhattan (above), your cityscapes, as a whole, seem to lack the one feature that makes a city a city--the human element. Though technically adept, in looking over all your work in this genre, I could not find a single human figure larger than an ant. Why is that? You are obviously quite adept at painting figures; why have you not integrated the two? I'm sorry to say this, but your cityscapes leave me cold. Moreover your seascapes, are not much better. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be North Sea (below, left). I like the many vivid shades of blue and the fact that you were unafraid to break the traditional horizontal mold so often used without thinking by those painting the dramatic point where land meets water and the two clash. However, having said that, where's the clash? I can admire to some extent your willingness to paint the encroachment of the tide upon the sand as a "close-up" encounter (and your expertise in doing so), but the sea is a massive, powerful entity. For the most part, your seascapes strike me as being "wimpy."

North Sea, Jose Higuera
As for your still-life efforts, your masterful handling of color continues to exalt itself, but by their very nature, still-lifes have a tendency to be borrrrring, and except for your luscious Grapes (below, right) I find little more than a seemingly academic interest in juxtaposed shapes. And fruit and flowers, no less, perhaps the most overworked, overused still-life subjects since the Greeks first pained grapes. Although what you do, you do well, I'd skip the produce and concentrate on faces and figures, your greatest strengths. Perhaps you could paint them by the sea or in the city. Likewise, if you feel you absolutely must paint fruit and flowers, they too could be integrated into your figural work.

Grapes, Jose Higuera

In closing, let me bring up one other factor with regard to you and your work. As I alluded to briefly before, and I'm sure you're well aware, you are just one of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of equally talented Realist painters all over the world working today. Their skills and aesthetic ideals are a given. The one thing which separates the greats from the would-be-greats is the audacity and drive you exhibited in writing to me. But that's only a part of the formula for success. You must rise above the skills and best efforts of all the others. You seem to have a knack for, and understanding of, the importance of self-promotion; but the same audacity you have exhibited in promoting your work must also be seen in your work. Technical skills alone are not enough. The artist must also work to break the mold as you did with North Sea, or, as the Star Trek intro used to proclaim, "Go where no one had ever gone before." That is the single most important hallmark of the Postmodern era in which we, as artist, live and work and compete today. Don't be afraid to fail. With a few minor exceptions, Jose, your work is no different than that of similarly talented painters a hundred years ago, near the beginning of the era of Modern Art. That means you are painting in the past. There are many different possibilities. Inject humor. Startle the viewer in some way. Know the rules and then dare to break them. Attack the bastions of traditional content. Mix media. Use words. Impress with sheer scale. Break free of the little window we call the picture frame. Blend the abstract with the realistic. Be controversial to some degree. Give art critics something write about rather than yawn at. In short, you have, in abundance, all the tools you'll ever need to rise above the timid masses of thousands of other artist struggling to get their heads about "see" level. As Nike says, "JUST DO IT!"

Part of Jose Higuera's impressive 2014 show, "Art Revolution," in Taiwan.


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