As an abstract painter Rick Briggs spent 20 years quietly flying beneath the radar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY, earning advanced degrees, occasionally showing in group exhibitions. His debut one-man show imploded when the Soho gallery folded just a month before his opening. According to James Kalm in the Brooklyn Rail, "Briggs predictably suffered a debilitating artistic collapse. Over the next three years his house painting business was booming but the studio work languished."
The nudge he needed to begin another chapter in his artistic career came when Briggs visited Purchase alum and fellow Guggenheim winner Kathy Bradford's studio. They have been friends for 28 years and have frequently visited each other's studios. She showed him a drawing from a coloring book of a hapless "painter man" stroking a wall with a paint roller captioned "this is fun." It resonated, and he used the image from a home improvement manual as a surrogate self-portrait. By becoming a figurative painter, Briggs exercised his anxieties and poked fun at himself. He began developing a narrative that cast "painter man" as the hard-luck day laborer with a dream. He brought the tools and materials of his trade into the works. He used his drop cloths, with paint splatters and plaster build ups in his works. "Plaster Weld" a gelatinous transparent substance with a reddish orange tint became the foundation color for his art.
"What I'm trying to do in my studio is to surprise myself. If I can make myself smile, or better yet laugh, then I've probably made a decent painting. Ultimately, painting is about freedom and mystery," said Briggs.
This year Briggs was among the 180 scholars, artists and scientists awarded Guggenheim Fellowships in this eighty-seventh competition. He is one of three artists from Purchase who received 2011 awards in the arts. The others are Stephen Vitiello,'86, and Katherine Bradford '88.
Guggenheim Fellowships are characterized as "midcareer" awards for men and women who have demonstrated exceptional creative ability for the arts. Rick Briggs was chosen from over 3,000 applicants based on his prior work.