"Alice Leora Briggs: The Room"

The printmaker disregards clean narrative in her masterly woodcuts based on poetry by Mark Strand

"You don't read poetry for the kind of truth that passes for truth in the workaday world," said the late Poet Laureate Mark Strand, in a Paris Review interview with Wallace Shawn. "You don't read a poem to find out how you get to 24th Street." Those words ring doubly true when viewing a recently published artist suite of 12 wood relief and chine collé prints by Alice Leora Briggs, each corresponding to a single line of Strand's poem "The Room." These works on display at Flatbed Press are printer's prints, to be sure, flexing the strengths and long narrative/illustrative tradition of the woodcut, but their vividness and textural intensity draw in the uninitiated with an equal pull. Neither Strand's poem nor Briggs' prints depict a clean-cut, discernible environment or storyline; instead, they present thick, tendrilly darknesses – some loose, phantasmagoric worlds made more of atmosphere and emotion than physics and facts, yet still hauntingly linked to the one we occupy.

A bearded man in shadow with cocked head looks sidelong as though listening intently to the parrot in his hand perched in profile. Behind them, archers from both sides fill a two-sunned sky with arrows. The image ranges from neutral to dark gray, the foreground achieving such through a mess of cross-hatching and the background employing a more traditional manuscript-like horizontal line technique. The image is framed by a black field in the bottom of which reads the 10th line of "The Room": "the green field where cows burn like newsprint."

Far from using the poem as a crutch, as can easily happen in works derived from others, each of Briggs' images stand easily on their own. Paired with Strand's words, however, the works form new meanings/confusions, leaving the viewer with a multiverse of tangled connections. The woodcuts are not simple depictions of the text; they do not illustrate the poem. Instead they act as a second but parallel sequence. The works influence the reader's perception of the text as much as the text influences the viewer's perception of the images and so form a perplexing trine when applied to our own reality. Experiencing the works together, one feels much like the characters in the poem or the images: lost, searching, with just enough information to try and make sense of it all, but without enough to ever succeed in doing so. That might sound like a dismal place, and maybe it is, but it's one that ends up being a hell of a lot more interesting than the seat of pure understanding and reason. It's a very real place, but one impossible to describe outside of the realms of art and poetry.

"Alice Leora Briggs: The Room"

The Working State Gallery at Flatbed Press, 2830 E. MLK
Through Oct. 21

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Flatbed Press
"De la Complicidad con la Agresión: Works by Miguel A. Aragón"
Miguel A. Aragón's images of drug cartel victims show the difficulty of addressing violence in today's society

H.C. Arnold, May 20, 2016

More Arts Reviews
Hunting the Golden State Killer in <i>I'll Be Gone in the Dark</i>
Hunting the Golden State Killer in I'll Be Gone in the Dark
How Michelle McNamara tracked a killer before her untimely death

Jonelle Seitz, July 20, 2018

Albert Race Sample Relives Texas Prison Life in <i>Racehoss</i>
Albert Race Sample Relives Texas Prison Life in Racehoss
Surviving 17 years on a prison farm

Elizabeth Banicki, July 20, 2018

More by Seth Orion Schwaiger
Not Very <i>Statesman</i>-like
Not Very Statesman-like
The daily of record's release of Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, its only full-time arts critic, isn't getting good reviews

Dec. 23, 2016

"Melissa Brown: Future Past" at Big Medium
Layered images and layered narrative add something extra to PrintAustin

Feb. 5, 2016


Flatbed Press, Alice Leora Briggs, Mark Strand, printmaking, woodcuts

AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2018

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle