Book Nook: Alice Leora Briggs, Dreamland Art
Written by Charles Bowden with art and illustrations by Alice Leora Briggs, Dreamland: The Way out of JuÃ¡rez. is a dark and moving treatise on the brutality of daily life in Juárez, Mexico, where members of the Juarez cartel rule with a brutal hand.
Between 2007-2009, artist Alice Leora Briggs visited Mexico to document the horrors, morgues, asylums, and death houses. The results are incredible sgrafitto (scratchboard or clay board) drawings, images that blend reality and myth with modern-day hyper-violence and calavera imagery.
With the feel of a graphic novel, the look of an illuminated medieval manuscript, and the harshness of a police blotter, Dreamland captures the routine brutality, resilient courage, and rapacious daily commerce along the U.S.- Mexico border. Freely appropriating Renaissance prints and paintings of The Last Judgment, The Crucifixion and other martyrdoms, public executions, tortures, and wars – by artists from Holbein to van der Weyden, and immersing herself in literature of Dante and Cormac McCarthy, Briggs merges old world fears with present-day realities to create a disturbing yet compelling picture of the human condition.
Below, an excerpt from an in-depth interview with Bowden, via The Bluegrass Special:
Your story in Dreamland is gripping enough, but Alice Leora Briggs’s illustrations really magnify the horror of Juarez by seeming to interpret as having the quality of medieval tortures. Did she read the text before she started drawing?
Bowden: Yeah, I had written it. Here’s what happened. I’m in Marfa, Texas, a guy calls, I say, “I’m writing a book.” Eventually that spring I went to Juarez again and got involved, went to the death house, this, that and the other. Then I wrote what is now called Dreamland. It was about 28,000, 30,000 words, I forget. Then I thought about dealing with an editor and I threw it on a shelf. I’ve been dealing with editors on Mexico for years and I knew what to expect—“now you’re saying the American agencies, la-de-da-da-da…” And I just thought, I can’t stand to talk to these morons. So I didn’t know Alice.
Then a couple of years ago she sends me a note with a disc of images. She’s living in Lubbock; I’ve never heard of her or met her. She wanted me to give her something I’d written so that she could make drawings from it, and we could do some little chat book or something. So I looked at the disc and I was stunned. Frankly I expected some MFA shit. We got more artists than the world will ever need. To make a long story short, I gave her Dreamland. I didn’t really meet her for about 18 months. I just found her images so stunning. Well, there was a second reason. I knew absolutely nothing about her; I had never met her, never heard of her. And one of the reasons I went into this is because I could look at her images and know that somehow she understood pain. Something had happened in her life at some point, and I like that. Because I see all this bad art trying to depict the problem of Mexico, or the issue or something. You go to museums now, or shows, and there’s some artist explaining to you why racism is bad, and I think, This is one of the most pretentious things a person can do. I need a fucking artist to explain this to me?
But Alice’s work is viscerally moving. So I called the University of Texas and they said yes. I went to them partly because I’ve dealt with them before, and know they have enough money to reproduce things correctly. You have to look out for your collaborator in these instances. Like if you’re dealing with someone and you really believe in their music, you want to get a decent producer and recording studio. That’s all. The rest is what’s in your hand.
LINK: To Alice’s website here.
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