Aubrey Higgin - Cheshire artist describes how art helped him through serious illness
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 May 2018
After falling seriously ill, a young artist in Woore used his paintings as a pathway to hope, writes Rebekka O'Grady
‘I hope that when people look at my work they feel uplifted and happy; that when they feel alone it gives them positivity. When I was ill I didn’t feel like that, but that’s when the work came about. Some pieces have developed from a dark place but they now light up a room,’ said artist Aubrey Higgin.
The 25-year-old from Woore has had a passion for art since he was very young, but his most recent work developed from a very difficult point in his life. After becoming seriously ill and often bedbound for nearly two years since 2014, he found his art helped him to come through onto the other side.
‘After my third year studying a fine art degree at the University of Reading, I decided to go to Argentina and do some travelling. I fell ill and at the time thought it was glandular fever,’ said Aubrey, who first started to paint with his grandmother when he was five years old. ‘I then developed dengue fever and upon my return to the UK suddenly found I couldn’t get out of bed.’
Over the next two years, doctors couldn’t diagnose what was causing Aubrey’s illness. He spent most of his time in bed or searching the country for a remedy, while finding himself becoming increasingly isolated from the world. Eventually, he was given some tablets from the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in London and his symptoms and rashes gradually went away.
‘We’re still not sure what exactly it was though. In my recovery, I was still feeling very tired but decided to go back to finish my fourth year at university. I had spent the past two years alone and stuck at home so I was determined to try and make my life normal again.’
For his final year project, Aubrey decided to recreate his bedroom at home through a 14x8ft installation. Inside there was barbed wire to represent his feelings of being trapped, videos of what he had been watching playing on a television, and drawings of himself as a ‘Gollum-like’ creature.
‘It was pretty dramatic, but it was how I had felt at the time. All my friends were getting on with their lives and doing different things, and that was draining to see knowing I couldn’t do the same. I felt alone and distraught not knowing what was wrong with me.’
While dealing with his unknown illness, Aubrey also met many others who had suffered similar circumstances and this gave him hope and made him remember that one is never truly alone. He said it made him realise that things could always be much worse.
‘In the room I wanted to make people see that there is hope, so I created little keyholes on the walls that you could see bright paintings through. It symbolised that as soon as you can leave the house, everything is amazing – they were keyholes to hope. That’s how my paintings started.’
Aubrey’s vibrant paintings each showcase a range of colours, brushstrokes and styles, and after graduating in 2017 his work caught the eye of someone who had links to an exhibition occurring at the Dorchester Hotel in London.
‘She said that I was such a colourist and that she had never seen my type of work before. I was asked if I would like to exhibit at the exhibition they were hosting for emerging artists – the only catch was that it was two days before the exhibition started and I had to get my work down to London to be in with a chance of being shortlisted.’
For Aubrey this was a huge honour to be noticed, as aside from the odd commission he had been working in a bar. Hundreds of entries were whittled down to 40, before he was selected as part of the final eight artists exhibiting at the ‘Emerging artists: An Edit’ exhibition at the Dorchester Hotel, on Park Lane in London, earlier this year.
‘It was a great privilege to be included alongside some artists who have already had their work exhibited around the world. There was also a piece by Damien Hirst in the next room, so that was surreal to have my work in such close proximity to his!’
Aubrey has now sold paintings to customers in Geneva and America, as well as to clients here at home. Whenever he is tagged online in an image of his work hung in someone’s house, he can’t quite believe it.
‘When I was ill the paintings gave me the freedom to express myself and even when I wasn’t at my best, they helped me to feel better. I see colours in a strange way; I am able to break them up and combine them with other shades that others may not see. I realise this more now as I’m also doing some teaching and can see how easily I pick up an understanding of colour over others.’
But Aubrey’s rocky road to full recovery isn’t quite over. He was diagnosed with skin cancer last year. Luckily, his treatment at The Christie in Manchester has gone well and, fingers crossed, he should be able to look positively to the future.
‘Everything has happened quite quickly! I do have some nice things coming up this year such as exhibiting at the Sandstone Ridge Festival in May. Long term, I just want to carry on creating and see what happens organically. I will always remain true to my style and what I believe in, and most importantly give positivity to people through my work.’ w