If his friends have anything to say about it, the late Paul Briggs may someday be remembered as Denver's most famous unknown artist. They've pooled their resources and are mounting a posthumous exhibition of his work at Sketch Restaurant on Broadway.
An artist of unusual talent and imagination, Briggs was a master draftsman, printmaker, photographer, photo-quilt "seamster," cartoonist, and creator of computer-generated images. Although few outside his immediate circle had any idea of the scope of his artistic endeavors, Briggs created literally thousands of images over the course of his 64 years.
To support himself, he ran lights and managed props for the Colorado Symphony and the Denver Stagehands Union, getting jobs off the bulletin board as they became available. Any suggestion that he try to make a living as an artist fell on deaf ears. He wouldn't even discuss it. He wanted nothing to do with gallery owners, artists' representatives, or the commercialization of his art. The whole point, as far as he was concerned, was to make art and have fun doing it. He never sold any of it, and in the end gave most of it away to his friends.
He had almost no interest in allowing his work to be shown publicly. In the early 70s a photo quilt he pieced together made it into an exhibition of Colorado artists at the Denver Art Museum. On a couple of very rare occasions a drawing or a print or a quilt might make its way onto the walls at Pirate. The only one-man show in his entire career took place in the lobby of the old Changing Scene Theatre in November of 1991. It caused a sensation.
Briggs had a wide range of idiosyncratic interests that naturally found their way into his work. Tattoos, Native American regalia, cowboys, bucking broncos, jackalopes, cacti, motorcycles (of which he owned one bad-ass 1300 cc Harley Softail, pimped to the max in turquoise and white), were all grist for his creative imagination. He loved postcards and kept an extensive collection displayed in his living room on a revolving carousel. He was fascinated by UFOs and the possibility of alien abduction. Or more to the point, he liked the imagery of UFOs and alien abduction, and as a photographer made several pictures of flying saucers (or were they frisbees?) buzzing trailer parks.
Possessed of an encyclopedic knowledge of Colorado history, geography, and geology, he was an avid camper and hiker. He could tell you the names of the plants and grasses growing beside the trail, and knew which mushrooms you could eat, which ones could get you high, and which ones would kill you dead.
He kept a pool table in his garage, and practiced enough to be able to compete in the taverns and biker bars he liked to hang out in. He spoke passable Portuguese, a language he picked up over several trips to Brazil, and from Brazilian friends who stayed at his house whenever they were in town.
He had a tin ear and an atrocious singing voice, but he loved music, especially jazz, salsa, and anything Brazilian. He knew -- and could play well enough to turn heads -- exactly one song on the piano. (Maria. West Side Story).
What survives of his oeuvre are the drawings and prints he gave to his friends, plus some 250 digital images retrieved from his computer after his death. The collected works go on display at Sketch Food and Wine, 11 West 1st Avenue, beginning April 1 and running through the end of the month. An opening is scheduled for Monday, April Fool's Day from 7:00 -10:00 PM. The public is cordially invited to attend.
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