Stuart Brisley (b. 1933, Surrey) studied at Guildford School of Art (1949–54), the Royal College of Art in London (1956–59), the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich (1959–60) and Florida State University in Tallahassee (1960–62). Brisley lives and works in London and Dungeness.
Brisley’s pioneering practice spans over six decades and encompasses painting, sculpture, site-specific installation, sound, photography, film and performance. During his important and expansive career Brisley has lived and worked between the UK, mainland Europe and the United States, absorbing a diverse and unique range of influences and forging one of the most poignant, inimitable voices in contemporary art.
At the core of Brisley’s multi-media practice is an ongoing commitment to making work that questions social and political structures. From the late 1960s he began creating performances in which the human body endured extreme physical, psychological and emotional challenges in order to express symbolically the conflict of the individual against dominant structures. These influential early works pioneered the development of an art form with a new democratic foundation for a responsive and engaged artist-audience relationship, mirroring and inducing the spectator to confront their own social realities as they manoeuvre between authority and freedom.
Brisley’s physically demanding performances foreground the relationship between body and environment. Having initially made constructivist sculptures as works in their own right, Brisley began to enlarge these built structures and feature them as architectural environments for his performance. Large geometric constructions, as seen in Measurement and Division (1977), 12 days (1975) and Between (1979), often found themselves as interactive forms to be clambered or perched upon, hung off, or lived in. Meanwhile, in works such as Moments of Decision/Indecision (1975) and Artist as Whore (1972), Brisley broke new ground with his excessive and provocative use of material – paint, organic matter and bodily fluids – and the abjection of the body and its situation, actively engaging with debasing conditions and low matter. These considerations are represented in works such as Peterlee Project (1976–77), Beneath Dignity (1977), and the creation of the Museum of Ordure, an ongoing project curated by the fictional R.Y. Sirb.
Whilst Brisley continues to create new performances, developments in his practice from the 1980s to the present have returned to painting, sculpture and site-responsive installation. His significant inclusion in the 3rd Mardin Biennale (Turkey) of a brand new sound installation, House of the Mesopotamian Cat – A Topographic Capsule (2015), is an ambitious and exciting demonstration of the artist’s recent work. Across his subversive practice, Brisley remains consistent in his innovations of expressive form and critical subject matter. His place at the forefront of contemporary artists around the world is truly deserved.
Brisley’s work has been subject to numerous solo exhibitions including his retrospective at ICA London (1981) and at the Serpentine Gallery, London (1987). In 2016, Brisley devised a new 24 hour piece for David Roberts Art Foundation, London. His work has also featured in exhibitions at the Royal Academy, London; Courtauld Institute of Art, London; Tate Modern, London; Whitechapel Art Gallery, London; the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds; the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Kunstlerhaus Graz, Austria, and also the Sao Paulo Biennale, Liverpool and the 3rd Mardin Biennial. Brisley’s work also features in many prominent international art collections including Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate, London; Arts Council England, UK; The British Museum, London; Arts Council of Northern Ireland, UK; British Council, UK; Musee D’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris/ARC, France; Stadtlisches Museum Schloss Morsbroich, Germany; Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia; Collezione La Gaia, Busca, Italy; Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, Finland and Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven.