Among all the artists that show at Froggwell, no one crams more little tiny itty bitty marks onto an etching plate than Briony Morrow-Cribbs, or does it so well. I first met Briony when she was a senior in high school. I had known her parents, artists Buffy Cribbs and Bruce Morrow, since moving to the island a few years before. I was impressed with both her talent and dedication to making art. At the time, she said, “I’ve watched my parents struggle with making a living from their art, and I really didn’t want to do that, but in the end, I just couldn’t NOT make art.”
Here’s what she says about her current body of work:
“It is through difference that we contrast ourselves with the world of animals. Observing our ability to develop language and capacity for symbolic thought, we define ourselves by the places where we diverge. By defining through difference, our similarities; such as the experience of inhabiting a physical body, are often pushed aside. However, looking at animals through the lens of what we have in common with them, we are provided with a glimpse of ourselves, a mirror to a part that is otherwise never reflected. Looking from this angle, we can begin to identify a different way to exist, a place where we find ourselves simultaneously detached and linked to the other creatures that inhabit this world.
Keeping in mind that we can hardly avoid seeing one as a reflection of the other, my menagerie is an exploration of the categories, “human” and “animal” and the intersections between the two. My latest body of work uses groupings of animals inhabiting a psychological space usually identified as the domain of the human: emotional interactions and complex relationships. While the representation of a single animal can occupy the space of the “other” (or non-human), the interaction between two or more stresses the commonalities between human and animal. What happens when familiar “human” sentiments are portrayed in the space between two animals? Some of these pieces speak of the qualities of tenderness and vulnerability while others show instinctive and savage moments of procreation – each provides an undeniable link to our beastly counterparts.
In this body of work the projection of the human experience onto the animal breaks down the intricate emotional shifts we usually associate with humans. These works press the viewer to ask certain questions of the presented scenes: Can we continue to define ourselves in opposition to a scene that is charged with the delicate nuances of passion, shame and excitement? Why do we often reserve certain kinds of animal imagery to represent us at our “worst”?
In combining the processes of copper plate etching and hand-tinting I have found the ideal vehicle for the realization of these concepts. Through adopting a tone of scientific objectivity, I can create scenes that are simultaneously tense and engaging. By employing an intricate system of dots, dashes, concentric lines, and then hand-tinting the image with watercolors, my method references early naturalist engravings. The characters, consisting of creatures both real and fantastical, create disturbing juxtapositions while retaining elements of the familiar. Upon viewing these scenes, a moment of subversion occurs, sensations of disgust meet those of longing, the monstrous moves amid the beautiful, between revulsion and desire; creating a moment where boundaries are blurred and classification is denied. And thus are we, finally, confronted by nature.”
Briony has just finished a three year MFA program at UW Madison. She adds this to her many other accomplishments. Her work has illustrated two books by Amy Stewart, Wicked Bugs and Wicked Plants. Several years ago she provided something like 800 hand pulled etchings for a book (the name escapes me for the moment, but it was a hell of a lot of work and is really, really cool) We are happy to have her join us at the 2012 Froggwell Biennale.