Briggs was born in San Diego, CA in 1923. He spent his childhood and youth in California, and then served in the Army during WWII. He studied painting at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco under the faculty assembled by Douglas MacAgy, including Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt and Clyfford Still, who all had a strong influence on Briggs. In 1953, he moved to New York. He had several one man and group exhibitions at the Stable Gallery. Early in 1954, viewing Briggs’ first one man show at the gallery, poet Frank O’Hara said in Art in America, “From the contrast between the surface bravura and the half-seen abstract shapes, a surprising intimacy arises which is like seeing a public statue, thinking itself unobserved, move.” He participated in several Whitney Museum Annuals and in 1956 was included by Dorothy Miller in MOMA’s powerful exhibition “Twelve Americans”. While in New York, Briggs met like-minded artists who believed in the idea of “art for art’s sake.”
As Briggs infused the New York art scene with Still’s raw and spirited technique, he explored, reworked and developed a multiplicity of compositional arrangements and painterly strategies. His work is distinguished by its bold, sensual use of form and color. Briggs exposed his intentions with a crushing, heavy technical structure of his material, paint and canvas, freeing his work from conventional forms to reach the highest level of conceptual expression. Raw, heavy pigment smears across unprimed canvas expose the image-making process and the rugged intensity of human nature, going beyond beauty and reason in illusionary impulse. At times he erupted into lyrical outbursts, at others he brooded with dark forces interrupted by brilliant flashes. He was inspired by the fundamental forms of nature, architecture, and oriental calligraphy, references which can be found throughout his work.
Briggs sought inspiration in nature. Many of his abstract paintings have a breezy composition and he conveys the changing qualities of the natural world through his ragged and expressive brushwork. His summers spent painting in Maine also undoubtedly inspired these connections to nature. The paintings have a fresh quality. The colors are pure and emotional; the brush strokes are energetic, volcanic, exploding in front of our eyes. The canvases are monumental and impressive; they catch our eyes and trap us in their powerful intimate world. Their physicality excites the senses of the viewer. His paintings are alive, offering viewers an experience that is both mysterious and known.
Firmly grounded in the fundamentals of the Abstract Expressionist tradition, Briggs’ active involvement in the development of the scene has had lasting influence on successive generations. His final works were permeated with a deeply reflective personal metaphor. These penetrative works provided satisfying dignity to his final years before he died from cancer in 1984 at the age of 61.
Through his passion and explosive energies, Briggs was able to bring new life to American abstract expressionism, embodying the words of Georges Braque: If painting doesn’t disquiet, what is it?