Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Josh Highter

For this edition of Fan Mail, Josh Highter of Berkeley, California has been selected from our worthy reader submissions. Two artists are featured each month—the next one could be you! If you would like to be considered, please submit your website link to with ‘Fan Mail’ in the subject line.

Josh wrote about his paintings as “inventions shaped by forces of society, economics, technology, and nature, moving in a trajectory of constant re-invention,” and it made me wonder if his paintings were from source material or imagination? It seems like these pieces have some image underneath them that has been totally obliterated, layers of mark-making cover over each other. In Folding, there are shadows behind the caged form. Linear, geometric objects appear in a strange compressed/folded perspective. Some images seem ripe for reading into, for example, ‘Imploding’ appears to me to be a ship at sea. His images seem to reference his physical surroundings, but is formal experimentation more important to the painter?


Josh Highter, Folding, 30" x 40", 2012

“During construction of this work, I often start with fairly nebulous forms, but as I keep layering and taking away, the structures really begin to find themselves…I hope that the viewer sees moments of destruction and creation in them, of spaces coming together or being broken apart. There is something so bound to the earth about these ideas, but I love taking them somewhere else. ‘Folding’ was really a quick piece. I wanted to make a painting completely out of spray paint. I definitely had elements I wanted to incorporate into it, a sense of heaviness at the top, a feeling of lightness at the bottom.

Your question about whether or not the images I paint represent actual spaces is at the heart of my process as a painter. I started painting very traditional landscapes on location in my home state of Vermont. I grew up in what I now recognize as one of the most beautiful parts of the US…I would just take an easle, go for a hike, and go for it. I spent a lot of time painting like that.

I began to realize that what draws me to the landscape is this sense of exploration…but when I am the one creating the space I get to fold into it a lot of elements that just speak to me, like a moment, a line or some color, from another place and time. I moved away from painting on location to painting from models (which kept a lot of the integrity of the original space) to painting from collages or composite drawings that are based in reality but are really created spaces. …I am still in many ways an observational painter.”


Josh Highter, Forming on the Bottom, 51 x 57", 2011

“I think my experiences working with my dad in the woodshop really made me interested in the process of creating. I often think of painting as building. So, for example, a technique I learned from my dad is a process called bookmatching where you cut a piece of wood into two and then align the pieces so they form a mirror image of one another. I like that this type of repetition is both organic and architectural. This is a look I wanted to recreate in ‘Forming on the Bottom’…I painted on a large plastic sheet and then used that as a sort of printing plate, which I pressed onto the canvas.

…I really missed the rugged sort of lonely landscape of Vermont. For me, my immediate experience with ‘Forming on the Bottom’ is that type of ruggedness. …[But] the narrative of the place, once I’m in the process of painting, becomes much less important to me than actually creating the space within the canvas. For most of my work I tend to paint and then scrape down over and over again to build up the canvas.”


Josh Highter, Imploding, 48" x 48", 2011

“I think of my paintings as invented spaces but they are definitely formed in a process of taking memories and moments from my own experiences and observations. With ‘Imploding’ I had been working on a collage, cutting out pieces from photos and drawings. The red repeating lines in the painting were actually a pattern from fence posts that I walked past frequently in Bloomington [Indiana].

The bottom of the piece, all of the bits of green and white, I drew in with the intention that it would be an aerial perspective of a forest. …when I was visiting Vermont and hiked up Mount Abe, the view from across the mountain was this series of trees that was exactly what I was trying to reference. So I guess there is an iterative process in that way to the work…. It’s cool that you think this piece look like a sailboat. I look at my work and I recall a series of moments from my own life, I like that someone else can look at these and create their own stories for how these spaces are formed.”


Josh Highter, Fault Line 1, Digital Collage, 2013

“Being in California, the one biggest change is that I’ve begun to really be interested in light again. For example, the piece ‘Fault Line 1′, something I think of as a drawing but that I made on my iphone, really plays with themes of space and patterning… I’m also working on watercolors and drawings based on observations direct from the source, which I haven’t done in a while. I guess that’s another thing about being in California, I’m outdoors all the time and I’m taking the work outdoors again as well.”

Josh Highter is an MFA graduate of Indiana University, Bloomington, and previously taught drawing and painting at Herron College of Art and Design in Indianapolis.