A VISIT WITH MATTHEW HIGGINBOTHAM AT HIS STUDIO IN SANTA FE, NM
Text by Bonnie Gangelhoff · Photos by Eric Swanson
This story was featured in the September 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art September 2015 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
Describe your studio. In 2010, I bought a house with a newly built garage. Since the garage had a skylight, a window with a nice view, and a closet which could be used as a “drying room,” I decided to remodel it and use it as a studio. Five years later, it still serves me well. I have since installed track lighting and bookshelves. The entrance is accessed from my backyard garden, which has offered scenes for earlier paintings.
Describe the environment surrounding your studio. I live in a community called Eldorado, 15 minutes from Santa Fe. The housing development started in the early 1980s and fast became a mecca for solar building. Per capita, Eldorado had one of the greatest concentrations of passive solar homes at one time. What’s also unique here is that every home has a little bit of land. I live on about 1.5 acres with 360-degree views. Most striking are the clouds set against the high-desert landscape. I came out to Eldorado about 2001 and saw those clouds while walking down one of the many dirt roads here. A year later, I bought a house very near that road. I’ve since moved to another home four miles away. Aside from the clouds, many other things nearby find their way into my landscapes—chamisa plants, juniper bushes, cholla cactus, piñons, poplars, cottonwoods, and the mountains with their infinite views have all become subjects.
What attracts you to the landscape as subject matter? I consider land in terms of spirit. It is physical and three dimensional, of course, but when I attach feeling to it, that’s when the land comes alive for me. It’s similar to when we listen to a favorite piece of music and feel something. Seeing a shaft of light illuminate a stand of trees at sunset, for example, or the wind move across a prairie field or rain clouds in the distance—all are triggers for me. This may sound “out there,” but I like seeing the land as music and using colors on canvas as a musician uses notes. A painting then becomes a composition of sound. So if my paintings are heard and felt, I’ve done my job.
What do you keep in your studio? Lots of art books; old catalogues; Southwest Art magazines; files of photos sorted according to subject; photos of older paintings; a large jade plant for abundance and creativity; a Native American flute, which I play sometimes before a painting session; bits and pieces of pottery paraphernalia to remind me of my past (I was a potter 25 years ago); a painting by my grandmother, which hangs beside my door, to connect me with past generations; and a quote by Wolf Kahn that’s taped to the back of my easel: “Art is about spontaneity and enthusiasm; it shouldn’t be too ordered or too rigid.”
Do you listen to music while you work? I do. But then sometimes I go for stretches without it, especially on hot days when I have my big evaporative cooler blowing behind me. My music interests are broad: classical, jazz, contemporary, new age, alternative, and folk. Lately I’ve cycled through a lot of CD’s my younger, radio-DJ sister made up for me. She has a gift for putting together great playlists.
If your studio were on fire, what one thing would you save? Hard question. Guess I’d grab the jade plant, which has been with me for years, and my grandmother’s painting.
What impresses you about other artists’ works? Technical craftsmanship and the ability to create an emotional experience. I’ve heard if a painting captures your attention for more than 20 seconds, something was done right. I gravitate toward paintings that do this for me.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not painting? Since painting is pretty solitary, I like to break the routine by getting together with friends. I also catch up on office chores, exercise, and take at least one extended trip a year, usually after my fall show in Santa Fe. A favorite spot is Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, a bird refuge near Socorro, NM. It has given me much material over the years, especially for my current show at Waxlander Gallery.
Where do you like to take people when they come to visit you? It’s a bit touristy, but there’s a great hot springs up north in Ojo Caliente, NM. The drive up is beautiful, and it goes through quintessential Georgia O’Keeffe country. And, of course, Santa Fe is a happening place.
Featured in the September 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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