Jonathan Briggs (b. Yorkshire, 1956) is perhaps best known for his virtuoso handling of clouds, through which he explores the emotional experience of sky, space and light. Early in his career Briggs spent a period he now regards as pivotal working in the archaeology department of a national museum, before first showing with Francis Kyle Gallery in The Ridgeway: Europe’s Oldest Road in 1986. Both experiences, he has observed, helped to shape a major feature in his developing vision of British landscape: the sense of its ancient past, of what lies beneath, old field patterns and pathways still much cultivated and still undergoing change.
Such an identification with an environment the contours of which bear witness to the history of its inhabitants goes hand in hand with another feature much remarked on in Briggs’ painting, one he shares with John Constable – a fascination with cloud structure (the East Anglian painter’s chief ‘organ of sentiment’) as an integral element in his vision of harmonious landscape. ‘In my paintings,’ Briggs comments, ‘I use effects of light and space to create a mood or atmosphere in which some magical quality of nature comes through, a quality which feeds and resonates with my own inner world of dreams, memory and imagination’. It was probably this desire to tap the regenerative or redemptive power of the natural environment which most impressed art critics in Germany when he showed publicly in Hanover, finding affinities in his lyrical realism with the spiritual dimension shaping the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich as well as the path pursued by Samuel Palmer, who sought to ‘bring up a mystic glimmer behind the hills, like that which lights our dreams’.
In Briggs’ treatment of light and surface, others have recognised the influence of the American Luminists such as John Frederick Kensett or Martin Johnson Heade, who considered it important to suppress as far as they could any trace of brushwork in their canvasses in favour of polished realism with a transcendental dimension. For Briggs, too, a combination of shadow and obscurity, often present in the foreground with an intensity of detail in the middle distance, has an almost hypnotic effect, drawing the viewer onwards towards an inviting horizon.
In the course of almost a quarter century during which Briggs has honed and refined his distinctive contribution to the traditions of English landscape, his work has also reflected corresponding changes in his subject, new crops, new patterns, new challenges, new harmonies. As our awareness spreads of the increasing fragility and limitations of this island’s natural resources, perhaps now reproach, guilt even, have joined other urgent reasons for celebrating them.
Jonathan Briggs was born in Yorkshire in 1956 and has been practising as a full-time painter for some twenty years, following a period spent in the archaeology department of a national museum. He has been represented by Francis Kyle Gallery since 1985 and participated first in the Gallery's Ridgeway exhibition, shown also at the Museum and Art Gallery, Swindon and The Mount House Gallery, Marlborough. Much of Briggs' work from the Ridgeway project is reproduced in 'The Ridgeway: Europe's Oldest Road' (Phaidon Press, Oxford 1988). In 1995 he showed in Per una selva oscura: Artists take to the Forest.
In the early 1990s Briggs discovered the coastal landscape of Dorset, which proved a fertile vehicle for his explorations of cloud structure and the nucleus of his first one-man exhibition with Francis Kyle Gallery in 1993. In 1994 he exhibited at the Schloss Landestrost, Hanover, when his work was purchased by the State Government of Lower Saxony. Second and third one-man exhibitions with Francis Kyle Gallery followed in 2001 and 2003, when he showed work mainly from Devon, Sussex, Somerset and East Anglia, developing his distinctive vision of harmonious landscape. In 2003 Briggs participated in the Gallery's theme exhibition Roma, contributing a sequence of paintings from the Alban hills, in 2005 he took part in Lair of The Leopard: twenty artists go in search of Lampedusa's Sicily and in 2006 he took part in Everyone Sang: a View of Siegfried Sassoon and His World by twenty-five painters today. Fifth one-man exhibition 2009.
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