Catalogue essay: Robert Storr on Rick Briggs

Robert Storr originally wrote the following catalogue essay about Rick Briggs‘s unusual paintings, and he has graciously allowed Two Coats of Paint to republish it. Briggs’s solo show, “Full Circle,” is on view at the Flecker Gallery at Suffolk County Community College through March 18.

Some painters just can’t leave well enough alone. Which is to say they can’t resist elaborating upon an initially strong image. Usually this is a bad thing. Like gilding a lily, though more often it produces something gaudy or kitschy rather than refined and jewel-like. As a rule such embellishments are a sign of mistrust in the original formal statement, an overt bid to please viewers in whom the artist also lacks trust and so feels s/he must keep busy, keep entertained and in the process overstimulate.

Rick Briggs, “Full Circle,” installation view at Flecker Gallery

Other times, however, extra layers of aesthetic attention result from a surfeit of excitement at the prospects the initial composition opens up, the still widening horizons it reveals. This kind of excess – if excess it truly is – looks very different and feels very different. It doesn’t resonate as too much resulting from a fear of too little but as necessary, a necessity embedded in the insistent specificity of the choices made each time mark or shape or facet is added. That’s the way Rick Briggs’ paintings read to me; as a much-of-a-muchness that could only be thus; as painterly situations so palpably exempt from the modernist “less-is-more” dictum that one feels absurd attempting to impose it.

And so as a point of reference within the doodle-prone, dimension-swelling domain of Briggs’ art I would direct the skeptical spectators’ eyes toward the relatively simple Delft-tile crossed with sundial image of Blue Boy, and suggest that it is the baseline against which more aggressively Baroque caprices such as Painting Pirouette, with its bulges and wrinkles and folds, be judged. I would also remind them to compare Briggs current work to that of Elizabeth Murray who made spare, quirky modular, even “minimalist” abstractions for several years before making the quantum spatial leap into her mid- and late career warped canvases with their polychrome maelstrom of forms.

Briggs hasn’t so much evolved from one such phase to another as given himself permission to follow two lines of thought simultaneously in intertwining directions, prompting the elemental One and Rolled Structure, on the one hand, and the dizzying agitations and protrusions of Innervision and For JMB on the other. Other canvases are located between these unextremist extremes – Briggs is not trying to blow painting to smithereens or starve it into submission – but rather make emphatically material visual objects that sustain the curious observer’s involuntary response, which is to squint, knit their brows and say to themselves “What’s that?”

There are far worse questions to be asked of art. Especially in an era when critical discourse is forever “interrogating” it, as if art were a prisoner-of-conscience — a prisoner of fully alert consciousness? – who’d had the misfortune to fall into the hands of the thought police. Well, the world is in a pretty terrible state right now and the thought police are active everywhere, so it is good to have something to concentrate on and think about that is really off their radar. Something that gives unalloyed and intelligently odd-ball pleasure, indeed a little more of such pleasure than conservative aesthetes of the Beauty Brigade will know what to do with. That bonus in turn restores balance to things in another direction, since “beauty” that doesn’t disturb but merely soothes the senses isn’t really beauty at all, just an academic wet dream of the perfect low maintenance aesthetic geisha.

So while Briggs upsets no apple carts he does offer a bit more of his whimsically jazzy type of image-making than the general and even the dedicated public are likely to be prepared for. So much the better, I say. 

 Rick Briggs, “Full Circle,” installation view at Flecker Gallery

Artist biography: Rick Briggs was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he earned his BFA at the Tyler School of Art. After graduation, he moved to New York and was among the first wave of artists to cross the East River on the L Train to set up studios in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Naturally, the Brooklyn Museum included Briggs in “Open House: Working In Brooklyn,” and his paintings were also selected for “Back to the Future,” the 2015 Life on Mars exhibition that recognized influential Williamsburg painters from the early 1980s. The show also included Chris Martin, Katherine Bradford, Joyce Pensato, and Amy Sillman on a rich roster of notable artists.

Briggs completed his MFA at SUNY Purchase in 1992, and had his first solo exhibition, “Painter Man,” at the Sarah Bowen Gallery. In 2008, Robert Storr invited him to participate in “Making Do Trois” at the Yale School of Art. His second solo show was in 2012 at Valentine, and over the years his paintings have been in numerous group shows at venues such as the Paula Cooper, The Drawing Center, and Arts & Leisure. Briggs has also curated exhibitions, including “Let’s Get Physical” and “My Big Fat Painting.” He occasionally writes art reviews for Hyperallergic and, in 2011, received the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. His success continued, and the following year Briggs received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Fellowship. Briggs continues to live and work in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Author biography: Robert Storr is an American curator, critic, painter, and academic.

“Rick Briggs: Full Circle,” curated by Matthew Neil Gehring, Flecker Gallery, Suffolk County Community College, Selden, NY. Through March 18, 2016.

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The Casualist tendency

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Two Coats of Paint is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To use content beyond the scope of this license, permission is required.

Two Coats of Paint is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To use content beyond the scope of this license, permission is required.

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