Paul S. Briggs: Dark Beauty

June 24 – July 15, 2023

Press Release

"Dark Beauty is about more than what meets the eye. In fact, I would say that the work is informed primarily by unseen dark thoughts, feeling tones and emotions. Dark Beauty is about finding peace and solace amid turmoil.  It is the experience of the “dark night of the soul.” Dark Beauty is the work that has emerged out of the last three years that we have all come through together, though some more bruised than others.

It is not just the surface of this new work that is fresh for me, but also the freedom to purely pinch and the courage to push beyond my skill set for a number of these pieces challenged my abilities and were always on the cusp of being lost. These are the largest pieces I have pinched to date out of one piece of clay. I have named this pinched series Caltrops. I was reminded of the black water chestnuts (also called water caltrops, trapa nuts, bat nuts, devil nuts), that I played with growing up near the Hudson River. They were so beautiful and menacing at the same time. After research on them I learned they bore the name caltrop which also references a Roman spiked jack-like weapon with similar points to these water chestnuts. They were strewn on the ground to impede the progress of enemies as the sharp edges of the objects penetrated sandals, hooves, and chariot wheels. I see the work both reflective of a very difficult time, which I am still working my way through, dealing with the new aggressions of these times, and facing current political and public health dilemmas.  I can’t say that I set out to “make” this body of work, it spilled out of me. That doesn’t usually happen, I more often philosophize about my practice. But I think I have been quite drawn away from studio thinking which opened space for me to abandon some of the rules that I have put in place for previous series of work: symmetry, repetition, beauty, color through glaze or clay but the continuum of inside/outside remains palatable.  I simply pinched for hours at a time until the piece was done and found that another beauty emerged from this dark night of the soul.

Yet dark beauty is surely about nurturing and aesthetic that embraces a surface that does not readily reveal its shadows, reflections, and contrasts. One must take in the surface as one might the night sky, a deep wooded forest or rich melanin skin. Appreciating dark beauty is practice for life. I have personally been nurturing what I call a black clay aesthetic. This work reminds me of one of my favorite sobering reflections, “beauty is in the ideology of the beholder.”

Pinch formed stoneware, cone 10 oxidation, most pieces fired twice

— Paul S. Briggs, Friday, June 2, 2023

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