I mentioned in my recent article on Giovanni Bellini that our perception of artists is often altered by the gravitational lens of closely associated artists, the more well known artists often eclipsing those who are less familiar.
When I first encountered Austin Briggs, it was in collections of his work on the Flash Gordon newspaper comic strip from the mid-20th Century. In that context, my encounters with his work elicited disappointment because I was looking for work by the strip’s creator, Alex Raymond, who I was dazzled by (and remain dazzled by, more on Raymond in a future post). I thought Briggs was “OK”, but few comics artists can stand up to Alex Raymond without being somewhat dimmed in comparison.
It wasn’t until some years later that I discovered some of Briggs’ magazine illustration art, for which he is actually better known than his comics work, and I had that “Woah! Wait a minute!” reaction and reassessed my opinion of Briggs out of Raymond’s shadow.
Briggs had worked as Raymond’s assistant on Flash Gordon, took over for him on another of his strips, Secret Agent Corrigan, and eventually succeeded him on the daily and then the Sunday Flash Gordon strips.
In the mid-1940’s Briggs moved from comics into magazine illustration. This was a time, up through the 1950’s, that was in many ways a sort of second Golden Age of American illustration (or a “Silver Age” if you will), in which artists like Al Parker were taking illustration into a post-photographic style, the representational aspect of illustration was de-emphasized and concept and design came to the fore.
Briggs straddled that transitional period and worked in both a straightforward style, that might be considered part of the Leyendecker/Rockwell tradition (and puts me in mind of Harry Anderson), and a more modern design oriented style, more akin to Al Parker.
My knowledge of illustration from that period is pretty weak, and there are not many resources for Briggs on the web. However what those resources lack in number, one of them makes up for in depth.
Leif Peng, who has become a web champion for many unsung heros of mid-20th Century illustration, has some terrific resources for Austin Briggs, including an extensive Flickr set and blog posts (and here), as well as a shorter sampler set on his site.
In the Flickr set in particular you can get a feeling for the range of Briggs’ style, from his polished renderings of a 1950’s (1956?) Chevrolet, or post-war air travel, to his striking line and color illustrations for The Dollmaker, his wonderfully energetic pen and tone drawings, this steamy scene from Good Housekeeping, and the stunning blend of illustration and design in this illustration for the Saturday Evening Post, shown in the image above, bottom.
Briggs was one of the founding members of the Famous Artists School and was elected to the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 1969.