The J. Paul Getty Trust Research Home Search Tools & Databases Collection Inventories and Finding Aids
Collection Inventories and Finding Aids

Home | Return to Search Results

Find a term within this inventory

Print View

Dick Higgins papers, 1960-1994 (bulk 1972-1993)

Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog record for this collection. Click here for the access policy.
Finding aid for the Dick Higgins papers, 1960-1994 (bulk 1972-1993)

Biographical/Historical Note

Dick Higgins is known for his extensive literary, artistic and theoretical activities. Along with his writings in poetry, theory and scholarship, Higgins published the well-known Something Else Press and was a cooperative member of Unpublished/Printed Editions; co-founded Fluxus and Happenings; wrote performance and graphic notations for theatre, music, and non-plays; and produced and created paintings, sculpture, films and the large graphics series 7.7.73. Higgins received numerous grants and prizes in support of his many endeavors.

Born Richard Carter Higgins in Cambridge, England, March 15, 1938, Higgins studied at Columbia University, New York (where he received a bachelors degree in English, 1960), the Manhattan School of Printing, New York, and the New School of Social Research, 1958-59, with John Cage and Henry Cowell. He attended Cage's composition class, where he met George Brecht, Allan Kaprow, Al Hansen and other future Fluxus artists. In 1958 Hansen and Higgins formed the New York Audio Visual Group, which was one of the groups to develop the concept of Happenings. The following year Higgins in association with Richard Maxfield, another of Cage's students, presented Stacked Deck, one of the earliest multi-media performances. Higgins also helped Kaprow put together his first New York happening 18 Happenings in 6 Parts that same year. Moreover, he also participated in the series of performances at George Maciunas' AG Gallery in 1961.

Higgins married artist Alison Knowles in 1960. They traveled extensively in Europe from 1962-63 to establish contacts and soak up the artistic atmosphere. They occasionally collaborated on Fluxus performances, but mostly kept their art separate, consulting and advising each other when necessary. Their twin daughters Hannah and Jessica were born in 1964. After their 1970 divorce, Higgins and Knowles maintained friendly relations and shared residences. They later remarried in 1984, mostly for financial reasons and convenience.

In 1961 Higgins co-founded Fluxus with Maciunas and others when that same year Maciunas began his Fluxus press. Maciunas wanted to publish a series of anthologies of very new and avant-garde art based on La Monte Young's An Anthology, which Maciunas had designed and produced. He proposed publishing an anthology of Higgins entire life's work. However, Higgins thought the publication would be too large for commercial publication. They agreed instead to include everything Higgins wrote, composed or invented between April 13, 1962 and April 13, 1963 (Thomas Jefferson's birthday). Since Maciunas was taking too long, Higgins decided to publish the work himself. Thus, Higgins founded Something Else Press in 1964. Its first publication was his Jefferson's Birthday/Postface, two books bound back to back.

A Fluxus work by definition must be cheap and mass-producible. However, Higgins' press published experimental literature in high-quality trade formats with remarkable design features intended for commercial mainstream publication. It was the first publishing house in the United States to devote itself to "artists books." Higgins also published the Something Else Newsletter, 1966-1973 and operated the Something Else Gallery, 1966-69, which in 1966 showed the first exhibit of concrete poetry in the United States.

John Cage's philosophy of integrating art and life influenced Higgins' own artistic and theoretical ideas. Higgins' important concept of "intermedia," stated in 1965, is a direct outgrowth of Cage's ideas. Higgins identified Happenings and contemporary experiments in theatre and the visual arts as arts that "fall between media."

Higgins hired Barbara Moore and Emmett Williams as editors for Something Else Press. Williams replaced Moore when she went on maternity leave in 1966, and remained there until both he and Higgins moved to California in 1970, Higgins to teach at California Institute of the Arts. Williams' subsequent involvement with the press would be based more on their personal relationship. But, their friendship grew increasingly strained until they broke off relations entirely in 1975, over a property dispute. They reconciled a few years later. Jan Herman took over as director of Something Else Press in 1973, when Higgins left to tend to personal and financial problems. The press went bankrupt the following year.

In 1971, Higgins settled in West Glover, Vermont, near Stinehour Press which has been called "the finest letterpress book printer in North America." The presence of Stinehour influenced what and how Higgins published. Higgins founded Unpublished Editions in 1972 as an offshoot of Something Else Press when Herman rejected Amigo for publication. Unpublished Editions was a hybrid between the traditional small press and an artists' cooperative. Its members included Higgins, Knowles, Cage, Philip Corner, Geoffrey Hendricks, Jackson Mac Low, Pauline Oliveros, and later, Jerome Rothenberg. It was renamed Printed Editions in 1978 and discontinued in 1985.

In 1974 Higgins had a nervous breakdown. He recuperated at Silver Hill Sanitarium for several months. The breakdown was caused by a combination of many factors: financial difficulties due to the renovation of his Vermont home, and personal problems, including a long bout with alcoholism and an increasingly problematic relationship with Eugene Williams, Emmett's son. The breakdown was precipitated by severe loneliness during his DAAD grant stay in Berlin. His lodgings were in an old castle on the outskirts of town, away from his friends and most other DAAD recipients. He became painfully lonely, had little money and drank heavily. He was forced to leave the program early, but later returned in 1981.

Higgins has had long-term relationships with both Eugene Williams in the early to mid 1970s and Bryan McHugh from the mid 1980s to the 1990s. Higgins' homosexuality is most notably illustrated in his books Amigo, For Eugene in Germany and Of Celebration of Morning and his many poetry contributions for gay magazines. His writings about homosexuality virtually ceased in the early 1980s after the commercial failure of Of Celebration of Morning and his remarriage to Knowles.

When Higgins' health improved, he entered graduate studies in English at New York University, 1975-1979. He received a master of arts degree in 1977. Higgins' studies led to his discovery of old visual poetry. His masters thesis was refined into his first scholarly publication, George Herbert's Pattern Poems: in their Tradition, 1977, which became the foundation for his research on Pattern Poetry: Guide to an Unknown Literature, 1987. Higgins attempted to enter New York University's Ph.D. program, but aborted the idea when he failed all of his qualifying exams in 1979.

When Higgins' financial problems became acute again in 1980, he moved from his large house in Vermont, with its indoor swimming pool, and bought and renovated a church in Barrytown, New York. Among his neighbors was George Quasha, publisher of Station Hill Press, who published, among others, Robert Kelly and Jackson Mac Low. Higgins found his new home small, but adaptable to his needs. From 1980-1983 he published many collections of scores including Piano Album and Sonata for Prepared Piano. Higgins also completed his DAAD fellowship in Berlin from 1981-1982.

From the 80's to his death Higgins spent much of his time writing scholarly bibliographies and theoretical discourses. Upon Higgins' return from Germany he delved into the subject of pattern poetry, which preoccupied him for over twenty years. His most intensive research occurred from the late 1970s to the mid 1980s. Higgins' involvement with pattern poetry culminated in 1986-1987 with the publication of the pattern poetry issue of Visible Language, which Higgins edited, and his book Pattern Poetry: Guide to an Unknown Literature. He also attended the Wolfenbüttel Conference (1987) on pattern poetry as an expert in the field.

Higgins remained active throughout the 1990s. Among his many projects, he edited and annotated Charles Doria's translation of Giordano Bruno's On the Composition of Images, Signs and Ideas, 1991 and wrote Modernism Since Postmodernism, 1997. Higgins died October 26, 1998 in Quebec City, Canada.

The J. Paul Getty Trust The J. Paul Getty Trust
© J. Paul Getty Trust
Privacy Policy Terms of Use