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article imageReview: Otherworldly artist Sha Sha Higby dances at the Throckmorton Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Oct 25, 2016 in Lifestyle
Mill Valley - Described by some as “other-worldly,” “haunting” “evocative” “exquisite and ephemeral” International performance/sculptural artist, Sha Sha Higby is one-of-a-kind. Her work will be appearing at the Throckmorton in Mill Valley in November.
While serving as a juror for the ‘Dreamscape exhibit’ this past October 4th at the O’Hanlon Center for The Arts, this reporter got a chance to chat about her work.
In my mind at first impression, Higby’s work lends itself to an ethereal realm that is earthy yet spiritual. Some of the sculptured work she has displayed reminds me of Japanese art of the Edo, Asuka and Heion period. Detailed and yet sweeping, the subject matter often is made up of simple things like landscapes or still life such as persimmons and blossom trees. And, this type of painting depicts people but in a scene which appears banal. Yet the details speak of deeper things. This is what I saw in Higby’s work from the ‘Paper Wings’ series, which has been making its way around the Bay Area to local art venues.
The materials and palates she used for 'Paper Wings' remind me of autumn, and I sense a similar connection between her art and traditional Japanese forms of expression. The type of expression that flows in to Higby's work is that of delicate things present in the strong and forceful portrayal of characters like the Shogun or the Samurai Warrior. Noble and proud, fierce and formidable — yet meditative. A vulnerability is present in the warrior in that life on earth is not permanent; the spirit of these character-personalities lives in the art.
Part of the Paper Wing series of sculpture-costumes.
Part of the Paper Wing series of sculpture-costumes.
Courtesy of Sha Sha Higby
"She creates a fantastical world, noted Heidi LaGrasta where her rich costumes, meticulously formed from wood, paper, silk, lacquer, ceramics and gold leaf, come to life unexpectedly. LaGrasta is executive director of Marin Museum of Contemporary Art (MMOCA). Higby will be making an appearance at the MMOCA later in November after her exhibit at the Throckmorton.
I understand that Higby’s art-pieces are vehicles for her performances. The elements of autumn and springtime, caterpillar and butterfly are central to what she expresses. In some of her pieces and dances the mask-faces are porcelain-like, and in others more earthen. Everything that she makes, be it large or small, is used for her performances, to express that ‘poem’ or artistic prose. Yet whether rustic-made with wood and twine, or refined as fashioned with porcelain, Higby’s work is etherial-spiritual and earthy — all at the same time. Very strong traces of the Japanese culture are woven within her creations.
LaGrasta also recognized a bit of the mystical in Higby's art: "A woven web of arms of dolls, multiple heads and masks move and are revealed on all sides as the character rotates. Sculptural costume, dance and puppetry explore the atmospheric world within the magical borders between death and life."
See here is one of Sha Sha Higby s dance costumes displayed as sculpture. All of her works serve to ...
See here is one of Sha Sha Higby's dance costumes displayed as sculpture. All of her works serve to help her in her dance performances.
Diane Poinski, courtesy of Sha Sha Higby
Higby’s experience and training as an artist as taken her from our local precincts in Marin County where she lives and has her studio, to Far East Asia, India and back. “I studied puppetry and masks along with dance for five years in Indonesia,” she told me. No doubt all this training and exposure to various types of artistic expression from around the world has helped make Higby the artist she is today.
“I love to draw," she said. It is often through sketching and drawing that she can ‘map out’ what a scene or dance will be. “When I make the objects (sculptures) there are many technical manipulations over a long period of time; but a drawing records the moment.” And as she collects, she is always constructing, arranging and configuring richly textured objects through many techniques, like painting, sculpting and enameling.
Higby utilizes a Japanese technique of lacquer-mask making called 'urushi.' This type of technique enhances the effect allowing the lighting to help the sculpture-costumes glow and glimmer. All of these aspects and elements synchronize, coming together to allow Higby to do her performances.
The complexity of the sculpture-costumes seems as if there are an entire cast of performers. But actually it is Higby herself alone on stage making the beings of her sculptured works come to life. “Performance is like an idea, like music," she said. "Or it can be like a poem. It’s non-linear.”
She mentioned how people usually like having everything in order as if in a line. But many things, especially those concerning dreams, ideas and feelings are not that way.
A more up close view of the intricate work of Sha Sha Higby s sculpture-costume.
A more up close view of the intricate work of Sha Sha Higby's sculpture-costume.
Courtesy of Sha Sha Higby
“Sha Sha started out making dolls and pursued the art of puppetry and sculpture in her early years which evolved into ‘moving sculpture,’" said Throckmorton artistic director, Lucy Mercer. "She has performed her unique body of work throughout the United States, and internationally in Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Slovak, Bulgaria, Singapore, Australia, Switzerland, England, Belgium, Germany and Holland.
"She is the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including the National Endowment for the Arts Solo Theater Artist Fellowship, The Zellerbach Family Fund and the California Arts Council New Genre Individual Artist Fellowship.”
Mercer went on to say that “Sha Sha studied for one year in Japan in 1971, observing the art of Noh Mask and theater and then received a Fulbright-Hayes Scholarship. This prestigious scholarship gave her the opportunity to study dance, shadow puppet making and performance arts in Indonesia for five years at the Academy of Music, Central Java, Indonesia.”
In addition to traveling throughout Southeast Asia — to Thailand and Myanmar (Burma), Mercer noted that “Sha Sha also received an Indo-American Fellowship to study the textile arts of India, and a Travel Grants Fund from Arts International to study in Bhutan. She has also recently studied lacquer arts in Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan through the auspices of the Japan-United States Friendship Commission.”
Higby is both grateful and enthralled by her career of more than 40 years. It has taken her around the world and back home to Marin. An artist reception will kick off the month-long exhibit, beginning on Nov. 1. The gathering for the reception will be from 5-7pm.
Sha Sha Higby shares the exhibit spotlight at Throckmorton with artist Cindy Miracle. Together their works are exhibited as part of Throckmorton’s November 2016 Art Exhibit. Sha Sha Higby’s work will be in the Theatre Gallery and Cindy Miracle will be in the Crescendo Gallery.
Higby will be presenting a performance piece at Throckmorton Theater on Saturday Nov. 19. For more information visit the Throckmorton Theater web site.
More about Sha Sha Higby, performance artist, Dance, Throckmorton Theater, Mill Valley
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