Artists Davey Highben and Martin Blenkinsopp embrace imperfection in 'dead mediums'

Andy Downing
A collaborative painting between Davey Highben and Martin Blenkinsopp

Though Davey Highben and Martin Blenkinsopp have been friends since meeting in California in the early ’90s, the two artists first collaborated earlier this year, painting a mural on a crumbling, impediment-loaded wall set on a far-off corner of the grounds at 934 Fest.

“The wall was really decrepit, and there were windows [to paint around], and the molding on the windows was falling apart, which made it hard to go with any kind of narrative. It was more like we were fighting each other,” said Highben, who joined Blenkinsopp for a late-December interview at his home/studio in Olde Towne East.

“There were a lot of flat walls that were available, but we went around the corner … and there were outcroppings, windows, boarded-up doors,” Blenkinsopp said. “And that’s really what I was interested in.”

It shouldn’t surprise that the two were drawn to one of the site’s more imperfect locations, since both have long embraced flaws within their solo work, which often features grotesque characters that the two view as a more accurate reflection of reality.

“I’ve studied all the art history, but I’m always drawn to those [uglier] aspects,” said Blenkinsopp, who traced the roots of these fascinations to childhood interests in sci-fi and Dungeons & Dragons, among other media. “If you look at a beautiful painting with people sitting on a pond eating lunch, and then you look at [15th century Netherlandish painter] Hieronymus Bosch, where he’s kind of creating these outer-worldly things, that’s something I’m more drawn to.”

“I don’t want to be a copy machine. I’ve been drawing since I was little, and sometime around sixth or seventh grade I got really good, and I could draw verbatim. And then somewhere around ninth grade I started hanging around with this dude, Chris, who could draw well but chose to draw like a child. So I decided to draw faster, and the more I did it, the more I loved the messiness,” Highben said. “And it could have been the psychedelics; there was a time in my 20s where that was all too much. But when you can stare at something like those scribbles over there, and as you stare and you start to see the balance and the beauty of it, it starts to become, like, ‘Well, I want to make all the ugly stuff beautiful,’ because it really is. You can look at a hundred Victoria’s Secret models, and after a while they all look the same. But you walk down the street in Columbus and the everyday people are more beautiful. Why? Because of the imperfections. Because of the insecurities.”

These perfect imperfections will be on display during “dead mediums,” a collaborative show between Highben and Blenkinsopp, which will feature 30-odd paintings created in tandem by the two artists, who exchanged canvases over the last several months, swapping and painting until a piece felt complete.

“We’ve only been in a room together two times. Once for this [interview] and then one other time for like four hours,” said Highben, who will join Blenkinsopp a third time in-person when the exhibit opens at Two Truths on Saturday, Jan. 4. “Otherwise, I would drive to his house, drop a stack on the porch, pick up the other stack and then sneak away like a little cat burglar.”

In the spirit of this show, Andy started writing this crawl and then handed it over to Joel to IRA GLASS IS A TREASURE AND THE NEW NATIONAL ANTHEM SHOULD BE THE ENTIRETY OF BON IVER’S CATALOG. Sign up for our daily newsletter

Originally viewed as a means of continuing the artistic conversation that started with the 934 mural, the show has gradually taken on greater import, allowing each artist to shake a degree of stagnation that can settle into any solo pursuit, as well as teaching each to be less precious about their artistic ideas. At times, Highben said, he’d leave a batch of paintings on the porch of Blenkinsopp’s house, only to have them returned days later with some of his favorite elements obscured or altered.

“It’s an exercise in letting go,” said Highben.

“There were a lot of times, for both of us, I’m sure … where the first reaction is like, ‘Fuck,’” Blenkinsopp said. “But you just kind of get over it. … I’m just trying to open myself up to new things, and this is definitely a new thing.”

“You get a fresh perspective, too,” Highben said. “Doing this kind of work, you have to open yourself up to new things so that it doesn’t become stagnant. … He’s done some things to some of my characters where it was like, ‘That’s fantastic! Why didn’t I think of that?’”

“One of the paintings, I just outright painted one of his guys, too,” Blenkinsopp said. “We’re just interchanging things and seeing what works. There are a lot of happy mistakes, I think, like Bob Ross said. There’s a lot of wisdom in Bob Ross, whether you like his stuff or not.”

Two Truths

1205 N. High St., Short North

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 4

“dead mediums”