Daina Higgins was born and raised in the Clintonville neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio. Her early art experiences were at the Columbus College of Art and Design, where she attended Saturday morning classes for seven consecutive years. During this time she attended Fort Hayes, an arts alternative high school located in downtown Columbus. In 1997 she received the Silas H. Rhodes Merit Scholarship from the School of Visual Arts in New York. She moved to New York, and graduated in 2001 with her BFA.
Out of a small studio in her Brooklyn apartment, she began making small paintings using a spray paint and stencil technique she dreamt up while looking at Georges Seurat’s drawings. In 2003, the Rebecca Ibel Gallery exhibited these paintings. In 2005, Higgins also joined the Elizabeth Harris Gallery, receiving critical acclaim for her 2006 solo exhibition in the New York Times.
In 2007, Higgins enrolled as an MFA student at Queens College CUNY. During the two years of graduate school, she was included in the Queens International 4, a biennial exhibition at the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing, and in 2009 she won the prestigious Joan Mitchell Foundation MFA Grant. Higgins also traveled to California to open a two-person show with Liat Yossifor at the University of LaVerne’s Harris Art Gallery.
Numerous publications have documented her paintings, including ArtNews, The New York Sun, The Village Voice, The Columbus Dispatch, and The New York Times. In 2006 Roberta Smith reviewed my exhibition at Elizabeth Harris Gallery, ending her review with “[she]…creates a poetic awareness of the passage of light, moving through the world, bouncing off things and making visual experience fleetingly possible.”
In 2010 Higgins moved to Philadelphia, where she bought a house and studio that she has been renovating. In November of 2017, she installed "Main Street", a series of three-dimensional paintings, inside storefront gallery Studio Hada in the Mantua neighborhood of Philadelphia. In 2017, Higgins also installed four paintings on permanent view in the Pennsylvania Convention Center (outside of Hall E).
I developed a traditional studio painting practice out of an adolescence spent as a street and graffiti artist. Because I often worked at night and photographed mine and others’ graffiti, urban night paintings based on photography are central to my work. I am interested in the fleeting nature of mood, tone, and luminosity of the urban environment and how those qualities can be encapsulated in an artifact. I also prefer to work with my hands. Therefore photography is a process that leads to my finished object, which is a painting. I rely on the marketability of paintings to be able to continue my life as an artist.
As a contemporary urban landscape painter my subject has centered around the non-place of the post-modern built environment that is comprised of vast roadside, auto-based businesses, storefronts, parking lots, highway overpasses, and other sites designed to ferry people through space to some far-flung destination. The non-place has been counter-balanced by my concurrent interest in the hyper-local, usually represented as cultural expressions of immigrant business districts in dense east coast American cities. This dichotomy is strongly represented in the inner-ring suburbs where I could afford to live as a New Yorker, and between 2006-2010 I created a body of paintings that depicted colorful storefronts alongside highway underpasses and wide roads planned by Robert Moses. A sense of ‘historicity’ was markedly absent from these paintings and so when I moved to Philadelphia in 2011 I was confronted by history in a poignant way.
I bought an old house on a busy road and watched as the recent development boom consumed multiple historic structures within the community. Curious about my own house, I researched the city archives and learned about its builder, Charles Oscar Struse, and his place in the history of the community. This historical knowledge allowed me to see my street in a new way. As an artist that is now rooted here, I seek to convey what is particular about this place, and I wish to portray the particular weirdness that Philadelphia is known for. I have decided my subject will be my own street, Ridge Avenue, a road that began as a Lenni Lenape footpath. Ridge Avenue has been through many eras of development and yet it never had a Robert Moses, so the layers of time are visible in a smaller format. The largest development era was that of the automobile, and its presence is exacerbated by the geography of the area: a dense suburb atop a steep ridge. Northwest Philadelphia was built in row houses like the rest of the city, and when the automobile came, it changed in remarkable ways. The layers include a drive-thru window on the side of a 200-year-old stone house, a pizzeria crammed inside of a mansard-roofed twin, a chrome diner situated within a cemetery, a bodega next door to a hulking stone church.
I worked with community leaders and in 2018 we were able to halt the development and historically register many of the structures, thereby preserving the layers and details of time past. I plan to continue finding the layers of history and painting what is particular about this place.