Inspired by nature: artist interview with Jonny Briggs

He has won multiple awards for his intricate artwork - a fusion of photography, sculpture and painting which is so detailed it is often mistaken for a Photoshop masterpiece. With work in the Saatchi Collection and exhibitions across the world, Walk caught up with artist Jonny Briggs to discover how walking, foraging, and the great outdoors has inspired him.

Jonny-Briggs-Un-seeing

My work explores…

the constructed reality of the family where I recreate my parents, self and family home in staged photographs, tapestries, films and sculptures. A theme running through the work has been the blurring between the interior home and outside world, the artificial and the natural, the real and the fake, culture and nature, drawing upon my upbringing around the British woodland.

Going out for a walk inspires me because...

it is an opportunity to connect with nature in solitude. When I was younger I would love to explore, or just be within the woodland. The nearest town was a 50-minute walk away so I really noticed the family bubble. The outdoors was an opportunity to go outside of that bubble. There was something about the calmness and wordlessness of nature that I found replenishing. The longer that I spend in and around it the more that I realize it is part of me; I am part of nature, rather than separate from it. I’m reminded of a word that is exclusive to the German language, ‘waldeinsamkeit’, which translates as a feeling of being alone in the forest, of oneness and connectedness with nature. I see walking as a form of meditation, an opportunity to go on autopilot and feel the moment, rather than think it. When I was younger I used to read fairy tales, T.S. Lewis and Enid Blyton. When immersing myself in the stories I would imagine each event to happen at a particular tree, bush or clearing within the woodland at the back of my garden. Now I revisit them as an adult and all that magic is still there in the places where I imagined them. It transports me back to my free spirited childhood mindset.

The thing that makes me feel most creative is...

solitude. The creative process is an introverted process for me, where I like to be with myself to hear my own intuition; to speak to and listen to myself.

Jonny-Briggs Natural Inside  

I am currently working on...

a new series of works based around soil for a residency with the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World at White Moose in North Devon. Here I intend to create domestic scenes of feasts and celebration cast from local soil, pigment and faeces for a series of photographs that I imagine appearing both alluring and revolting. The works shall go on a touring exhibition in 2015 – The United Nations International Year of Soils - to include Peninsula Arts Plymouth, Kew Gardens in London and Hauser & Wirth Somerset.  

The piece I am most proud of...

is always the newest piece I make because it is further along my journey of exploration with the work. Sometimes each piece of work that I make feels like a stepping stone or clue to walk further, like a treasure trail of my own interests.

The strangest experience I have had so far working as an artist is...

every now and then looking back at the work collectively and thinking ‘what is my mind telling me?!’ It’s a bizarre stirring experience to see one’s own thoughts so visually, it’s like holding up a mirror to oneself. I remember one particular time I had painted my entire body and clothing luminous pink, together with a square of woodland behind my parents’ garden. I was crouched within the scene, with the camera on a tripod in position, with my Mother clicking the shutter – and their neighbours were outside in the woods moving logs next to us. They remained in polite silence as I wandered the woods in pink luminosity and directed my mother from within the pink mask of my father. I assume the experience was stranger for them.

My favourite place to walk is...

Simon’s Wood, the National Trust woodland near where I was raised. I spent a lot of my childhood in those woodlands, yet despite its familiarity there are always unfamiliar things to stumble upon. There’s a lake, heathland, pine forest, deciduous trees, and even a nudist colony that looks like a breezeblock fortress complete with anti-climb paint and barbed wire. Its brutality appears almost out of place amongst the billowing foliage and naturist nudes inside, yet it’s these juxtapositions of the natural and the artificial that I like to delve into in the work. I remember one time my grandmother saying ‘all these people going about their daily business without clothes on. It’s just not natural.’ I think our cultural norms can often be so familiar that we consider them to be nature – or second nature. All it can take is a bit of unfamiliarity to help us step outside of our own socialised versions of normal and see our ways of being afresh.

Jonny-Briggs-Mitosis  

The next place I want to explore on foot is...

the woods and hills of West Sussex with my sister. We like to forage for wild food, including chanterelles, wild garlic, sweet violets, nettles and wild thyme. It turns a woodland walk into a game of edible hide and seek.

One thing I always take with me on a walk...

are my vegetarian shoes. They are tatty and holey to the point where water seeps into my socks, squelching with every step. Waterlogging aside they are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever had, and I wear them every day whether on walks, at my studio, at gallery openings or visiting friends. My feet feel more comfortable wearing them than when I’m barefoot! It’s getting to the stage where they are at the end of their tether, so next time I visit the Brighton shop I endeavour to purchase the very same pair.

Find out more about Jonny Briggs and his work by following him on Twitter @JonnyBriggs176