James Brooks


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Painter. A figure painter and accomplished muralist before he turned to abstract expressionism, Brooks later emphasized nuanced color harmonies in large canvases related to color field painting. He numbers among the first to experiment with staining unprimed canvas. Throughout, his generally lyric work, often inflected by decorative qualities, balances cogitation with the free play of spontaneous gesture. James Ealand Brooks was born in St. Louis but lived with his family in several western locations as a child. Following high school in Dallas, he studied there for two years at Southern Methodist University and began his formal art training at the Dallas Art Institute. He also studied privately with Martha Simkins (1866–1969), a portrait, landscape, and still life painter who had grown up in Texas but studied at the Art Students League, where she came under the influence of William Merritt Chase, before settling permanently some years later in Dallas. In 1926 Brooks moved to New York. He studied at the Grand Central School of Art and the Art Students League, where the well known drawing instructor Kimon Nicolaides (1892–1938) and Boardman Robinson numbered among his teachers. Subsequently, he supported himself as a commercial artist while painting figurative works indebted to Picasso and Matisse. Under the auspices of federal art projects, he painted several murals, most notably a 235-foot-long interpretation of the theme of flight (1942) for the Marine Air Terminal rotunda at La Guardia airport. (Painted over in the 1950s, it was restored in 1980.) U.S. Army service took him to wartime Europe and the Middle East from 1942 until 1945. Upon his return to New York, he at first worked in a synthetic cubist manner but soon became interested in early abstract expressionist work, particularly Jackson Pollock's. Following his example, Brooks experimented with poured paints, while also developing a calligraphic linear element indebted to surrealism. To incorporate chance in the structure of his work, in the late 1940s he began dribbling paint on the back of canvases, then allowing the soaked-through elements to suggest the rhythms and shapes of his compositions. Responding also to the planar relationships in Willem de Kooning's work, by 1950 he had forged a personal style of carefully considered color areas connected by linear swirls. In the 1960s his works became simpler, more vibrant in color, and compositionally more structured. He resided for some time near the eastern end of Long Island and died after an illness of several years in Brookhaven, not far from his home in Springs. In 1947 Brooks married abstract painter Charlotte Park (1918– ). Born in Concord, Massachusetts, she moved to New York in 1945.

Subjects: Art.

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