For her upcoming solo exhibition, “The Writing is on the Wall,” artist Alice Leora Briggs explores death and violence at the battered borderlands of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico through intricate sgraffito drawings and woodcut prints. While her focus on this particular subject matter began with her Border Art Residency near Juárezin 2008, Briggs’ preoccupation with death and our emotional response to tragic events is deep rooted. When Briggs was just seven years old, she witnessed her brother fall to his death in Grand Teton National Park. While the event itself was a horrific experience for young Briggs, it was the silence that followed that shaped her experience and subconsciously directed her artistic focus toward death and tragedy.
“Not acknowledging or looking at these things seems more painful than the alternative,” says Briggs, who was mystified by her family’s silent response to her brother’s death, as no funeral or further acknowledgement followed his fall. “There was this horrible thing that happened, and then nobody ever mentioned it again,” she says. “So it just comes back to this desire to uncover things that maybe people don’t want to look at.”
Briggs’ current style and process stems from her background in printmaking. She received her MFA from the University of Iowa, where she studied under advanced printmaker Mauricio Lasansky. Lasansky was known for his 1960s series of pencil drawings called “The Nazi Drawings,” which explored the brutality of concentration camps and Nazi Germany. “Print making is often a vehicle for some kind of social agenda,” says Briggs, who, even though she turned to drawing and didn’t return to printmaking for many years, approaches her work with a similar philosophy. “I think it’s important to make a record of those things.”
Briggs’ sgraffito process begins with a wood panel that is treated with rabbit skin glue and kaolin clay, and then sprayed allover with black India ink. Then it’s all about “making lights in the dark,” as Brigg’s cuts, scratches and etches each image with x-acto knives, steel wool, sandpaper and fiberglass brushes. The laborious process parallels the violent or dark symbolism that shows through in her imagery. Briggs’ final works are shockingly dense and detailed and often contain ominous messages or overlaid type. While many pieces directly reflect citizens of Juárez, others take a more metaphorical approach, depicting other sorrowful scenes while referencing styles from European art history from Albrecht Durer to Hans Holbein and Hendrik Goltzius. “I don’t know what it all means,” admits Briggs. “But the meaning typically unfolds for me as I’m making the piece. And what it might mean to somebody else, I don’t know – and I’m fine with that.”
Join us for the opening of “The Writing is on the Wall” on September 27th from 5-7pm, and view more work for this exhibition here.