It’s a kind of magic

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On a chilly evening, hopefully one of the last remaining few, I sat drinking copious amount of tea with Jonny Briggs. This is a man with whom conversation will never need alcoholic lubrication. To see the world with the kind of analytical magic that it has through his eyes is something that most of us can only dream of.  Fortunately, as he also happens to be an artist and every inch the rising star, we are permitted something of a glimpse.

For me his work is everything that art is supposed to be. It is thought-provoking, skilled, and accessible on multiple levels. If you want to look at it purely aesthetically it’s just as valid as if you want to consider the more philosophical messages and inspiration behind it, something that has consistently had its roots in the exploration of familial relationships and childhood over the last decade.

I have known Jonny Briggs since his days at Chelsea College of Art and Design, where he shone from the word go. Since then, his career has been forged across Europe, his work is featuring in a number of up-coming books including this year’s Post-Photography from Laurence King Publishing, he speaks at the Tate Britain, and six of his pieces having been added to the Saatchi Collection. His ideas are detailed and refined, an always-mesmerising mosaic of intricate thought and expertise – invariably staged photo installations that at first glance you would think to be the result of being a dab hand at Photoshop. He also works with 3D scanning, printing and milling, and producing lifelike mannequins, often of his parents, to feature as part of the strange reality of his photographs.

For a quiet, understated person, the processes in which is produces his work are almost as fascinating as the end results. Having just returned from his latest exhibition in New York, at Julie Meneret Contemporary Art on the Lower East side of Manhattan, 2014 is turning out to be as promising and diverse as any in his career so far. In among exhibitions in Tel Aviv, Miami, Florida, and Rome, are two peculiarly juxtaposed residencies – one for The Soil Culture residencies at the White Moose Gallery, which will see him mentoring and working with local artists in Barnstable in North Devon, and the other for the Babayan Culture House in Cappadocia in Turkey.

“Throughout June, I shall be living in one of the converted caves, producing a new body of tapestries through working alongside the local weavers,” he explains, and then seamlessly answering the hovering question of how this ties into his existing body of work, continues, “I shall be creating new photographs in the caves, ruins, and abandoned houses surrounding the area. I am interested in the cave as a metaphorical womb; of shelter, protection, and comfort on one hand, yet restrictive and claustrophobic on the other. Through working with fabric, I’m also transported back to a time in my childhood when I wished to engage in the hobbies of my sisters, to be part of their group. In some ways I saw them as an inaccessible tribe, and in some ways now I see the work as compensating for what I was unable to do in the past.”

Quietly but constantly looking to challenge the social norm and the conventions of the way we are brought up is another thread in the explorations of family that Briggs dissects. As such, this particular project is typically multifaceted, with each element having been considered carefully for its meaning. The intricacy of both his thought process and his method of working is something that is perhaps attributed to, or maybe just explains, an initial venture into the world of architecture before fine art proved his calling card, “The fabric works also involve characters that appear shroud-like, woven from threads, the colours of which allude to flesh and hair. The characters merge with their surroundings, referencing the notion that we may become our environment. It is my environment and upbringing that I wish to think outside; this bubble of familiarity I wish to pop. The work is a vehicle that enables me to do this, through perverting, re-appropriating, and recreating the environment, family, and normality I was socialised into.”

Ultimately, what is exciting about Briggs and his work is its sheer skill. Whether you like what you see or not, is almost irrelevant. He doesn’t seek to tell you what to think, he opens the door to questions. His work is simultaneously accessible and has an unquestionable place in the world of fine art. He uses new mediums of working, and still manages to create work that’s masterful and thought provoking without smacking you in the face with either answer or problem. To straddle all of those lines and still be true to your own vision really is a kind of magic.

by Bonnie Friend

Jonny Briggs’ residency at Babayan Culture House, Cappadocia, Turkey is in June 2014.