Writing for Art in America (Nov/Dec 1975), Peter Selz revisits Clyfford Still's work after thirty years, describing West Coast abstract painters as being "wilder, less refined, less organized, less intellectual, less concerned with Surreal metaphor...more sensual, more organic, more directed towards nature, which was in close proximity." Briggs and Schueler studied in the late 40s through the early 50s with Still at the California School of Fine Arts, now known as the San Francisco Art Institute, during the period that Ad Reinhart, Mark Rothko, Richard Diebenkorn, David Park and Hassel Smith were invited by Douglas MacAgy to teach there. Inspired by Still, who admired Arshille Gorky, Briggs and Schueler painted edge-to-edge, slathering paint on the canvas with a palette knife, brushes, rags and their fingers. West Coast culture freely mixed Beat Poetry, Jazz, Bebop, and Zen Buddhism at events and readings. Briggs and Schueler both showed at MetArt, an alternative gallery that closed with a show of Clyfford Still's paintings. When Schueler moved to New York in 1951, Still introduced him to Barnett Newman, Franz Kline, Phillip Guston, and Joan Mitchell (to name a few), and he showed at the Stable Gallery in 1954, at the Castelli Gallery in 1957 and 1959. Briggs arrived in New York in 1953, scoring one-man shows at the Stable Gallery in 1954 and 1955. He was included in Twelve Americans at MoMA in 1956.
Sonia Gechtoff studied at the Philadelphia Museum School of Art, now the University of the Arts, moving to San Francisco in 1951. Her mother Ethel Gechtoff owned the East West Gallery (1956-58). Like Briggs and Schueler, Sonia gravitated towards abstraction -- although she was initially a figurative or social realist painter. She absorbed the influence of Clyfford Still through her close friendship with Briggs, making atmospheric paintings of masses of lines; and later, colorful, flame-like compositions. She was the first woman to show at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, and she exhibited at the Brussels World Fair in 1958. She returned to New York in 1958 with her husband, painter James Kelly, who also studied art at the CSFA on the GI Bill. The exact opposite of the Abstract Expressionists, Anne Arnold made playful, realistic sculptures of animals and
people in wood, ceramic, canvas and other organic materials. She studied sculpture at the Art Students League from 1949-1953. She married Ernest Briggs in 1960 and they moved to Montville, Maine in 1961. After he died in 1984, she focused on drawing and watercolor painting she was befriended by the photographer Robert Brooks until she died in 2014. Anne taught at Geneseo and Brooklyn Colleges and at Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania. Her work was shown at Fischbach, and is currently represented by the Alexandre Gallery.
Ernest Briggs and Friends creates a snapshot of a painter with close personal ties to the abstract artists Jon Schueler and Sonia Gechtoff, and to the witty, realistic sculptor Anne Arnold. His reputation for prizing change and unpredictability makes sense considering the diverse company he kept and the fact that he entered Abstract Expressionism by way of the quirkier, West Coast door.
It is with great pleasure that we unite these friends once again. Sonia Getchoff is the lone survivor of the group.
She is 89 years young, Bravo!!