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Tales from Mark Lewis Higgins’ drawing table

By LISA GUERRERO NAKPIL, The Philippine STAR Published Feb 05, 2023 5:00 am

A gorgeous new book titled Tales from a Drawing Table is by Mark Lewis Higgins, who can best be described as a cultural changeling who has drifted unfettered through the seven arts over his many lives.

Mark has glided effortlessly from fashion to painting to works that are downright sculptural, suggesting tabernacles and Moses’ tablets, to designing for the theater in the tradition of Leon Bakst for the Ballet Russe.

The book’s cover alone is spectacular and belongs to a “seraph,” the creature, he says, that sits closest to God; a blur of wings, hands and eyes. Its slipcase cutout design suggests a spyhole into a dissolute harem.

The cover of Higgins’ gorgeous new book, which will be launched at Art Fair Philippines February 17-19.

The son of an Irish-English father (Hubert Lewis Higgins, who was an insurance businessman) and a Filipino-Chinese mother (the iconic National Artist Salvacion Lim Higgins, founder of Slim’s Fashion and Art School), Mark studied in New York, and lived in San Francisco, Hong Kong, and Rome before moving to Manila where together with his sister Sandy, he became an art educator carrying on Slim’s heritage.

“Aleppo,” by Mark Lewis Higgins in gouache, gold and silver leaf on Chinese silk.

Lewis Higgins is the epitome of the 21st-century ilustrado, wading unafraid into the ancient histories of Southeast Asia, the Philippines included.

He takes inspiration from the exotic Silk Road which he describes perfectly as “the internet of its time—where ideas on culture and religion traversed from one region to the other. There were also so many fascinating kingdoms and cities along its way.”

“Jalayatra” in gouache, gold and silver leaf on Chinese silk

“Varuna” in gorgeous exotic materials

The book spans 30 years of his work, from 1992 to 2022, and it has the tone of an aristocratic memoir, full of tidbits from his family’s lore—part strict New Englander, part decadent Filipino-Chinese—and, from what one can only imagine, his misspent youth.

It also takes a long look at his many abiding passions, from Alexander the Great and Constantinople (today’s Istanbul), to Ibn Battuta, a Muslim explorer he says traveled further than Marco Polo. “Alexander traversed the globe from Macedonia all the way to India, at a very young age,” notes Lewis Higgins, “and by doing this, altered the DNA of the ancient world forever.”

Tales from a Drawing Table is Lim Higgins’ memoir of family and art that spans New England and Filipino-Chinese roots.

His drawing tables have been found in studios in New York and Hong Kong, with his most beloved being in Rome’s boho-chic Trastevere.

“There was a time when I would spend four to five months of my year painting there. I felt that I needed to be in a very old city, where I could feel the cobblestones under my feet and with ancient stone walls surrounding me. Every apartment I lived in was about 400 years old. There are still Mithraic temples being discovered two or three layers below baroque churches and Etruscan tombs in the cities of Tarquinia, Volterra, and Cerveteri,” he recounts.

A monastery in Armenia beside the Mark Lewis Higgins artwork “Mahram”
Atmospheric photographs from the book: A Venetian lion and the artwork “Semiramis” by Mark Lewis Higgins

In the book, he writes, “I have always worked on paper, with water-based paints, and on a flat drawing table. Imagine, if you will, that I might be more closely compared to a medieval scribe quietly creating an illuminated manuscript rather than a manic painter assaulting a large canvas with a dripping paintbrush. My work area does not occupy a lot of space, and because of this mobility I have been able to move around and create these paintings in many different habitations.”

The fleeting, the imaginary, and the unattainable are the quarries of this astonishing book.