Daina Higgins’s early art-making experiences were as a tagger, so it’s logical that her paintings of New York cityscapes show the city’s forlorn industrial places where a graf writer’s clandestine work is usually done. Referencing her roots, she often incorporates graffiti tags into her paintings—they’re there above a busted awning in the now-demolished Shea Stadium in Shea Dusk, 2009, or scrawled on a Flushing restaurant window in Northern Boulevard, 2009. But Higgins’s recent work isn’t so much about graf in New York’s sleepy residential and industrial neighborhoods, it’s about the feel of those neighborhoods themselves. The paintings have the colors and gloss of commercial window displays. There’s a feeling of bathos in these scenes, which show the multicolored pennants of used-car parking lots, deli “grand” openings, and racetracks. A telltale canary-yellow band of police tape cordons off the scene of small-scale architectural collapse in Shea Dusk. Higgins’s New York is bordered by these colorful synthetic banners. She has described her paintings as an “archive of the margins.” While on one hand there’s a romantic flâneur quality to the idea, Higgins’s paintings starkly show the reality of twenty-first-century New York, a city pockmarked with unfinished architecture and empty lots, and characterized by a massive imbalance of wealth. “Grand old New York” only stretches so far.
Nick Stillman, 2009