Brooks at Parrish

James Brooks: A Painting Is a Real Thing installation view. Source Parrish Art Museum

The Parrish Art Museum is currently hosting James Brooks: A Painting Is a Real Thing, which serves as a portal into the artistic realm of James Brooks (1906-1992).

The exhibition highlights artist Brooks’ career-defining moment in 1947 when he pioneered a new painting technique using Bemis cloth. This allowed paint to seep through the fabric, creating a distinctive style marked by dynamic shapes, deliberate lines, vibrant colors, and occasional centrifugal drips.

Brooks’ artistic odyssey was far from conventional. Raised across Oklahoma, Colorado, and Texas, he embarked on his artistic education under the mentorship of various instructors. A fateful move to New York in 1926 exposed him to the city’s vibrant art scene, leading him to delve into advertising and lithography.

During this period, he embraced the prevailing regionalist aesthetic, even securing mural commissions through the Works Progress Administration. Notably, his creation “Flight” adorned the Marine Air Terminal at La Guardia Airport, a mural that endured both whitewashing and recovery, and is now represented in the exhibition by preparatory sketches and a colossal photographic reproduction.

World War II momentarily disrupted Brooks’ artistic trajectory, as he served as a combat artist, capturing the multifaceted essence of warfare. Upon the war’s conclusion, Brooks found himself sharing living quarters with Jackson Pollock before establishing his residence in Montauk, New York. A tragic turn of events occurred in 1954 when Hurricane Carol obliterated his studio, compelling him to relocate to Springs, where he conceived an expansive studio conducive to larger-scale artworks.

While Brooks’ name may not be as instantly recognizable as some of his contemporaries, his oeuvre exudes timeless brilliance. His canvases echo the expansiveness reminiscent of Rothko’s color-shapes, the refined brushwork akin to De Kooning, and the astute compositions reminiscent of Kline.

With over 100 artworks on display, the exhibition asserts that his artistic significance transcends the confines of chronology, firmly establishing him as a revered figure within the realm of Abstract Expressionism.

Featured Image: James Brooks: A Painting Is a Real Thing installation view. Source Parrish Art Museum


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