Cardiff Character: Richard Higlett

It is one week since Cardiff Contemporary 2014 closed its metaphorical doors. As an Arts Council of Wales project that Richard Higlett has been working with, you’d think the 47-year-old Warwick born artist would be left with time on his hands. You’d be wrong.

Higlett outside Chapter Gallery, in Canton

Higlett outside Chapter Gallery, in Canton

Higlett can now focus on his personal creative output. “At base level I class myself as a practising artist,” he said, although Richard added, “I mean, I don’t like to think of myself as an artist; I just make things and other people decide that.”

Richard “came to art late in life”. After giving up a career in carework he completed his MA in Fine Art at Cardiff Metropolitan University (formerly UWIC) in 1999. “I’d always made art but I went into full-time education when I was 25. I had been a stress engineer with an office, car and £12,000 a year. It was 1989 and that was a lot of money but it was like ‘Wow, this doesn’t matter, what do I really want to do?’”

Wally French, Outsider Artist

Wally French, Higlett’s alias, constructs artworks using found objects and reclaimed materials

Alongside Richard’s successful art practise, he is an influential figure within Cardiff culture. He started ArtCardiff in 2007 and in conjunction with the project, initiated Cardiff Open Studios. That year, Higlett also co-founded Mermaid and Monster. He went on to co-found Goat Major Projects in 2012. Richard begins these initiatives because he sees gaps in the Cardiff art scene: “What’s missing, you know? Two, maybe three, commercial galleries the size of Bay Arts that could sell contemporary art? Now that Tactile Bosch has gone what opportunities are there for artists leaving college? That’s missing. What’s the relationship between the college and the indigenous art scene? Very poor. There isn’t a great deal of crossover. That’s lacking. It’s about what’s missing and what you can do to try and fill those gaps.”

Richard initiated Cardiff Contemporary festival in 2005. “The point of Cardiff Contemporary was to create a situation in which art is everyday and has potential for things that you wouldn’t necessarily see normally.

“The agenda this year was to embed the festival in the psyche of the local authority and to get them to realise the benefits of free access to the visual arts. [It gives] the opportunity for people to think creatively as part of a general plan to make Cardiff better.”

No wonder Cardiff Contemporary has become part of the annual cultural furniture of the city. It proved popular with both the arts community and the wider spread of residents and visitors. However, when asked about how the festival was executed Higlett stated, “If anything there was too much work, too much going on, too many things to see. But it’s all a learning curve.”

Regardless, Cardiff Contemporary has an economic payoff, as Richard explained: “For a relatively small Arts Council Wales investment, compared to other costly events in the city – like fireworks and hanging baskets – you get something that had a massive impact on tourism and animated a community.”

Funding is guaranteed until 2017 and planning has commenced for #CC2015. “Cardiff Contemporary has a ripple effect,” Richard proclaimed. “It’s a very small stone but it’s a very dense stone. The weight of it positively affects the way the city is perceived.”