Jonny Briggs is a family man – sort of. The Caitlin Art Prize finalist investigates and interrogates his childhood by photographing his parents in ways that are alternately unsettling, comic and elegiac. We speak to the Royal College of Art graduate here.
You incorporate your family into your work and performances as opposed to using actors – how did you come up with the idea?
Being brought up in Finchampstead village, there wasn’t much around. It’s a half hour walk to the nearest shop, and there are mainly woodland and lakes in the local area. Because of this, you really notice the family bubble. The autobiographical element to the work was so easy to make that it didn’t even feel like a decision, it just felt right. Even if I try to make a piece of work that’s about something different, it has a funny way of linking back to my past, and to those who shaped it.
How do your parents feel about being so prominent in your work?
They’ve been incredibly supportive. The work’s been invaluable in bringing us closer together. I remember the first time I wanted to involve my parents in a photograph: they posed wearing the clothes they got married in, eating their dinner in front of the TV. Eight years later and I’m casting their heads and painting their faces with luminous pink paint and black gloss. Something tells me they’d have been less likely to oblige if I asked this from the beginning!
You used a lot of different media, from film and performance to photography. Has this been a natural transition for you?
I see them as different parts of a puzzle. I’m like a kid in a sweet shop, wanting to try different things and explore new avenues.
You’ve also begun to use tapestry in your work.
Having four older sisters, I used to be interested in the hobbies they had and perhaps from wanting to be part of their clan I wanted to work with fabric. Sewing, teddy bear making, quilt making, knitting and weaving. I love the domesticity of it, and how it refers back to documented events of historical importance before the invention of photography.
What’s the best (or most bizarre) reaction you’ve had to your work?
One person emailed me saying “your mot
her is Superwoman” and “your father, he is a ghost”. Everyone’s interpretation is different, and I find myself tempted to eavesdrop on what people are saying at exhibitions – even tempted to bug the work!
Your collages with defaced childhood photographs are a departure from your other work. Can you explain the thinking behind them?
I like to see it as transforming the images, bringing new things to them. So it’s giving to the images, rather than taking things away. On the one hand these pieces could be interpreted as being loved, when I carefully cut, scrape or unpick the images, and preserve them in frames, transporting them in bubble wrap and foam. On the other hand these pieces could be seen as being damaged or destructed.
What do you have coming up next?
In October I’ve a solo show at Simon Oldfield gallery.
Do you have any contemporaries that you particularly rate?
I’m really interested in the awkward sexuality and psychological vs physical spaces of Gabriella Boyd’s paintings; the theatrical personalities in Steven Allan’s paintings; the age ambiguous character ‘Joyce’ in Juno Calypso’s work and the amusing performative films of Ryan Trecartin.
Words: Jareh Das
Credits: Reclaiming (2011), The Stripped Connection (2011), Togetherness (2011), Natural Inside (2011), Dummy (2010), Regeneration (2012), Comfort Object (2012)