Amelia Briggs

I recreate my childhood as a means of self-discovery. The colors, shapes and lines associated with the toys, games and objects of my youth get broken down and pieced together to form bloated objects that appear to be inflated. Acting as relics, each is personal and universal, suggestive of history and a search for identity.

Through the revival of the past, my memories associated with the cues I represent take on a form of potential. My community and generation may share the same visuals that make up a common nostalgia, however we each bring a unique perspective to the table. The inflatables do not spell out a narrative; instead they reimagine a shared language—hopefully offering a springboard of recognition and possibility. 

Amelia in her studio. Photo by Andrea Behrends.

Amelia in her studio. Photo by Andrea Behrends.

Interview with Amelia Briggs

Questions by Beatrice Helman

Hi Amelia! Thank you so much for talking with us. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what drew you to both painting and creating in general? Do you remember some of the first instances in which you felt a need to physically make something with your hands? 
My father is a visual artist and my mother is a psychologist. Growing up under their influence played a big role in my ability to think about and see things in a more imaginative way. I have always painted or made things, however I don't think I really grasped my drive as a maker until my senior year of undergraduate school. That is when I first began to take risks and take pleasure in my ability to surprise myself in the studio. 

In what ways have you noticed your work evolve over time, or perhaps how has your relationship to it changed?
My work has changed considerably over the past several years. When I first began taking my work seriously I was a representational painter, often pulling inspiration from advertisements, modeling books and photographs. When I look back it seems that I was always moving closer to abstraction, each shift seemed to allow me to get closer to finding my own language. My relationship to my work has become more intuitive. I have always been a very intuitive artist (isn’t’ everyone?), however it took me a long time to really learn how to listen to myself in the studio and trust my instincts. I think a certain amount of that trust also comes from building up a level confidence that allows me to make decisions without wavering.

Are there any recurring themes that you keep coming back to? Any color palettes or moods? On the other hand, are there any concepts that you’re excited to explore and haven’t yet?
I have always been drawn to “dirty pastels” or moody shades of blues, pinks and greens. Conceptually, my work and interests have always centered on the search for identity and most recently childhood memories. I think a great deal about our relationship to the images and objects from our youth.

What’s a normal, run-of-the-mill day like for you? Are you a person of routine, and if so what is it?
I am not a person of routine when it comes to my studio. My schedule changes often, much of that comes from having a job in addition to being an artist. Most artists I know also maintain a full or part time job and I wish that was something that was discussed more openly. In addition to being a visual artist I am a gallery director so my studio time is often in the evenings and on weekends. I work best when I feel I have endless time so I like to drink a lot of coffee and stay up as late as I can on the nights I don’t have to be at work the next morning. These are often my most creative and fulfilling times in the studio.

Do you look to other artists for inspiration? Or do you find that your creative process is renewed by looking outside of the art world? Or both?
I am always looking at the work of other artists. Instagram is a wonderful tool for finding new and interesting people. I constantly look at childrens books, coloring books and toys. I also get a great deal of inspiration from walking around antique stores, I have begun to collect old toys, blankets and fabrics from these places and often use them as props or inspiration in my studio. 

Who are some artists that have influenced your work, or even inspired you to turn in a new direction?
There are so many artists who have influenced my work. If I had to name a few I would say, Anne Neukamp, Laura Owens, Amy Sillman, Charline von Heyl, Dana Schutz, Ida Applebroog and Lily Van Der Stokker.

What are you reading? What are you listening to? What are you watching?
I love listening to podcasts, my current favorites are Terrible, Thanks For Asking, 2 Dope Queens, Death Sex & Money, The Conversation Art Podcast, Peachy Keen and Here’s the Thing. I am always reading The New Yorker. I recently joined a book club, which has helped me discover new books I wouldn’t necessarily have known to pick out on my own.  We just started 1Q84 by Haruki Murkami. 

What do you do when you need a break and have to let off steam?
When I need to de-stress or take a break I enjoy reading or watching a movie.

Can you tell us a little bit about your studio space, and how you like to get work done? What are some of the things that are important to you in your day to day process of being in the studio - for example, can you work among chaos or do you need to have everything in its place?
My studio is often very messy unless I’m preparing for a studio visit. Working in chaos doesn’t really bother me; in some ways it can be helpful. I keep piles of vintage coloring books around that I am always referring to while I work. I will often pick out specific shapes and loosely mimic them. I collect weird vintage toys, fabrics, blankets and anything that I find visually interesting or related to my work. Being surrounded by these things is very helpful for getting me into the right mindset.

What are some of your other great loves outside of art?
 have an unhealthy obsession with fashion. 

What is your personal relationship to social media? Do you find that it supports your work, and your growth, or that it’s dangerous to your creative process? Do you use it solely personally or for professional reasons as well? 
The only social media I pay much attention to is Instagram. I use it professionally and personally. I have come to understand the power and reach of Instagram and have tried to make my studio account more polished as a result. I think that if it is used well, Instagram can be a great tool for creative people to get their work noticed and make connections. In addition to reaching followers I use my studio Instagram as a way to hold myself accountable, I find it has helped me to think about my practice in new ways.

In your opinion, what are some of the benefits and detriments of social media in relation to the art world? How has technology changed things, even in the last few years?
Instagram is wonderful in the fact that it is free and available to anyone with a smart phone. If you happen to be an artist whose work translates well digitally than it can be a great promotional tool to engage and expand your audience. However, Instagram is certainly not all positive, it can be addicting and in some cases detrimental to creativity and ones mental health. It should certainly be used in moderation.

I remember one of my art professors told me that the reality is that the majority of people who experience your work will do so digitally rather than in person. Unfortunately, I agree with that statement, as not everyone will make it out to see your show or come to your studio. Our digital audience will always be larger than those who experience the work first hand. My professor said that before social media became what it is today, as a way to make us realize the importance of taking good images of our work, however I think that is the case more than ever. This of course is a shame because it is always better to experience work in person.

Are there any accounts you follow that you love?
I follow many individual artists who I enjoy, however I especially like to follow contemporary art publications and galleries because I love discovering new artists and learning about their work.

Do you turn off your phone while you work?

Is there any advice from your past that really resonated with you?
One of the most important things I have learned is, keep your head down and do the work. Sometimes you will feel like you’re moving in the right direction and sometimes you won’t but as long as you keep doing the work you’ll get somewhere eventually.

 Let’s talk specifically about your work. Can you tell us more about your relationship to the different media that you use, like drawing and painting, and your inflatables? Do you feel that they serve separate emotional and artistic functions? 
My drawings feels separate from my inflatable/painting work. I will often make drawings when I feel stuck or don’t have time to get in the studio. They feel freeing and are sometimes just about design. When I am making my inflatables they are much more about sculpture.

In terms of your inflatable work, can you talk about the origins of the project, your process, and what you hope to communicate with this project?
I first began making “inflatable-like” objects when I got out of graduate school. At that point my paintings were beginning to take on a 3-D quality and I was looking for new ways to treat the canvas as an object. Each one begins with cutting a panel into a shape, and then I stretch and stuff fabric onto the top and sides. I use Poly-fil and various fabrics like old quilts, t-shirts and bed sheets depending on the texture. Once the piece is built I paint it with countless layers of thick latex and papier-mâché to hide any creases or imperfections. Once it is ready and complete I treat it as a blank canvas and the painting begins.

With this series I am always hoping to nod to something from the past, often that is derived from something I experienced in my childhood. That could be a specific pattern, color, toy, movie, game etc. Regardless of the source I strive to present an object that feels at once weighty and playful, something with an unknowable history

You have a few quotes on your website in regards to objects, such as, “In every case, the object brings together intellect and emotion." Can you talk a little bit about this, and your own views on the ways in which we interact with and value the objects in our lives?
I am fascinated with the role objects play in our lives. As a visual artist I tend to put a lot of weight on the visual appearance of the objects I surround myself with. I feel like the objects that are most important to us say a lot about who we are and what we value, they tell a story of our day to day lives. I am also interested in the difference between our reliance on objects as children versus our reliance on objects as adults. I think they have the ability to carry an emotional weight and history.

How does that physical connection translate to art? In other words, how do you find yourself communicating those relationships through art?
It is precisely that emotional weight and history that I am trying to create with my “inflatables.” I am looking for the sense of familiarity that one might associate with an object in their daily life and the emotional weight that would come with an object long forgotten about or discarded. I often relate to this to coming across an object in a flea market or antique store that stops you in your tracks because it reminds you of something familiar yet feels utterly unknown and foreign.

Do you have a connection to water or, more specifically, pools? What about summer?
Ha, I have had a few people tell me that my work reminds them of pool rafts. That is not intentional, however it may be something I am thinking about subconsciously. I did almost drown as a child so it could be related.

Do you see your childhood in your work, or do you see that it’s had a lasting influence on your creative self? In which ways do you see that it’s present?
My childhood plays a large role in my work. It is most apparent in what I am visually drawn to as an artist. I always know I am on the right track with a piece when I have a flash back to a memory from my childhood, it will come all of a sudden while I am working, it could be a specific toy or game, a piece of plastic food I used to own or a dress I wore. 

How much does your physical location play into what you are drawn to creating?
I don’t know that it plays much of a role.

Can you talk about how your work deals with the tension and that accompanies attempting to find an identity and further, an expression of that identity?
For me that tension comes from a line between recognition and mystery. I enjoy playing with shapes and colors that might nod to something familiar or childlike yet remain unknowable. I think the main reason I have been so drawn to children's imagery is because those visuals are in many ways the groundwork for how we begin to understand the world and develop our identity. They are the building blocks of discovery. I like to think of each “inflatable” as a character that carries a past, like something you might find in an antique store, something with a history that you would never really be able to know.

I read that you reassemble and edit “visual cues associated with the graphic representations of comics, coloring books, and cartoons,” and wanted to ask you to expand on that and also to talk about your relationship to comics, coloring books and cartoons, and the effect that they’ve had on your work?
A big part of my process is literally breaking down, ripping up or editing old drawings from comics, coloring books and cartoons. I am drawn to this imagery because of its simplicity and ability to represent complex subjects in a universal way. I remember going to Disney World as a child and walking into one of the Mickey houses, everything was in the same visual language, large, comically bloated and colorful. I think about that experience a lot in the studio.

I also wanted to ask about your work with found imagery in relation to comics, and how you work with it, and the thought process behind using it — I’m thinking specially about the Peachy Keen podcast conversation here! 
My reason for using found imagery comes from my desire to remove the narrative from imagery that is cohesive and recognizable. I want my work to be suggestive of it rather than pointing directly to any one character or story. I usually pull a specific line or shape fragment from a page and redraw it in a way that feels related yet completely removed from its original context.

I’m interested in this idea of working with parts of a narrative, or a fragment of it, in the way that a comic book is multiple fragments working together to create an entire narrative, and wanted to ask how that translates to your work— do you feel like you’re working with small parts of a larger narrative?
I think that when several of my “inflatables” are in the same room they are in dialogue with one another, however I don’t feel they are continuing a shared plot. I like to think of them as autonomous.

Where do you find your materials? There’s something so exciting about how the material seems to be one thing—but in reality, it’s something else.
I find many of my fabrics at goodwill, antique and resale stores. I like to find old curtains with weird ruffles or strange textures on old quilts and blankets.

Can you tell us more about the ways that you work with shapes? You seem to steer clear of symmetry in a truly wonderful way. Is this intentional? If so, could you expand on that?
I do try to avoid symmetry, I want my work to feel a little wonky or off. I don’t strive to make anything that could appear to be made by a machine. However, craft is very important to me. I take great care in sanding down edges and making each piece reach a certain standard before applying the final coats of paint. I enjoy playing with a viewer’s expectation and like the tension between something that appears to be inflated yet is actually stuffed and heavier than one might think.

Do you have any projects, shows or residencies coming up?
I am currently in three shows, a solo show at Houseguest Gallery in Louisville KY titled “The Memory Closet”, a group show at Wiregrass Museum of Art and a group show at MASUR Museum of Art. I don’t have anything else scheduled except for a tentative 2-person show in San Diego, CA in January.

Thank you so much for talking with us!

 To find out more about Amelia and her work, check out her website.