Social issues on canvas

Fine Arts student weaves her social opinions into paintings 

Mackenzie Higgins’ series of six paintings about domestic violence.
Mackenzie Higgins’ series of six paintings about domestic violence.
Credit: 
Mackenzie Higgins

Aspiring arts conservationist Mackenzie Higgins, BFA ’17, uses realistic painting to speak out about social issues that are important to her.

At the end of her second year, Higgins completed her “Six Paintings in Six Weeks” series focusing on violence against women. The artist wanted to encompass all aspects of violence against women, including emotional and verbal abuse.

She began painting at an early age, and has found ways to incorporate her personal interest in social issues into her artwork for the Fine Arts program.

“After high school, my focus shifted to painting about issues that were close to my heart,” she said.

Mackenzie Higgins painting a piece of rocker Kurt Cobain. (Supplied by Mackenzie Higgins)

The “Six Paintings in Six Weeks” series is composed of six paintings she completed as part of a project. Each of them features female figures against deep, black backgrounds. One of them portrays a woman with her hair down and no shirt, leaving her shoulders and chest bare. A gash on one side of her mouth is still bleeding. 

The woman’s eyes look directly at the viewer. The jarring piece leaves the viewer with more to think about than when they first approached it.

Higgins, who’s currently completing chemistry courses at Queen’s, is working towards a career in art conservation. 

“Ideally, I’d like to be restoring old artworks to their original state,” Higgins said. 

Growing up in Collingwood, Ontario, Higgins distinctly remembers painting family photos from an early age. 

“A lot of my early art was family portraits that I had found in my family photo cabinet. That was my base that I worked off of,” she said.  

She says even as early as kindergarten, her teachers recognized her inclination towards visual art and encouraged her to pursue her passion. 

“My teacher said I had these skills and was able to draw little animals and things,” she said. 

The painter recollects her parents encouraging her to continue her passion for creating artwork and regards her father as being one of her biggest inspirations. 

“My father has always been really supportive of my art. He saw early on that I had these fine motor skills and he later enrolled me in an arts school alongside high school.”

Higgins — who’s currently in the Fine Arts program — focuses her artwork on particular social issues that speak personally to her. The artist said painting is a gateway to expressing her opinions on these issues. 

At only 10 years of age, Higgins decided to become a vegetarian. Her most recent work focuses on animal rights and overconsumption, and she says it’s proving to be one of her favourite pieces. 

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