A visual artist and poet, John Brooks (b. 1978, Frankfort, Kentucky) explores themes of identity, memory, death and place while considering questions of contemplation, the expression of emotion, the transformative power and emotional resonance of particular experiences—and what Max Beckmann described as “the deepest feeling about the mystery of being."
Brooks is a native of central Kentucky. He studied Political Science and English literature at the College of Charleston, South Carolina, with continuing education in art at Central St. Martins and the Hampstead School of Art in London, England. His work has been exhibited in the United States and Europe and is held in the collection of 21C Museum Hotels, Grinnell College Museum of Art, and numerous private collections. Brooks' poetry has been published in Assaracus, East by Northeast, and Plainsongs. Over the last two decades, he spent several years in London and Chicago and has been based in Louisville, Kentucky, since late 2013. In 2017, Brooks launched Quappi Projects, a Louisville-based contemporary art gallery focusing on exhibiting work reflecting the zeitgeist, where he has curated over twenty-five exhibitions.
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles is pleased to participate in the second edition of Gallery Weekend Los Angeles, presented by the Gallery Association Los Angeles (GALA) from July 27-30, 2022. In conjunction with their current solo exhibitions, the gallery will present John Brooks and Jonathan VanDyke in back to back readings on Saturday, July 30th as part of readings on Saturday, July 30th as part of our Gallery Weekend LA programme. We will begin with John Brooks at 1pm followed immediately by Jonathan Van Dyke. A second presentation will be held at 4pm.
What impresses about the work is the way you use line and color and the quality of the touch of the hand, but also what you're positioning creates a space for liberation. I feel that these works are ultimately about liberation; a liberation of queer identity, a liberation of being in the world. The lush intensity of that experience. And the new possibilities are liberatory.
The characters depicted in the drawings, whether living or dead, close or distant, share a common denominator. The starting point for each individual that is tenderly rendered in each drawing is John’s subjective and emotional relationship to them. All are objects of his fascination or affection or both, whether they are family members or interactions that were enabled by what Brooks calls “the whims of the algorithm”. These are portraits of a community that the artist made some sort of connection with, and the degree to which they caught his eye can vary from lifelong friendships to Instagram discussions about architecture, politics, or queerness.
Bodies and faces stare back from the walls of John Brooks’ studio in the Portland neighborhood. They’re sketched onto paper with energetic markings, largely in pastel tones. Drawings like these make up his current show at a gallery in New York City’s East Village. “Which perhaps is a bit weird given that I think of myself as a painter,” Brooks says.
Brooks masterfully depicts landscapes, still lifes, and portraits through a wholly singular approach to artmaking. Nude and clothed men, vegetation, shells, and various scenes from nature are captured with a fluidity and tenderness that demonstrates a powerful connection to the subjects he chooses to draw. Through his application of graphite, colored pencil, and pastels, the artist offers us a peek into the relationships he has forged with the world that he creates with delicacy and precision.
Embracing the classical and the contemporary, John Brooks’s paintings yearn to create other worlds, a desire that Garth Greenwell argues underlies both art-making and queerness.
Brooks goes on to discuss how the inclination to make work that appeals to a wider audience necessarily dilutes the message and intention of the work, creating art that is, ironically, less accessible. Instead, he advocates for honing in on individual interests and experiences as the path to making work that is both honest and compelling. He confirms, “I’m making work that I want to make. I feel a great sense of freedom in that respect. I feel, all of a sudden, rather unafraid, which I think is necessary. I’m not interested in making impenetrable work…I think there are a number of entry points for people.”
To walk into Moremen Gallery, in Louisville, and view the exhibition of John Brooks’s new paintings is to have a visceral experience of queer time. The twenty-one oil paintings, most of them large format—roughly four and a half by four feet, or larger—use contemporary pop-culture references, allusions to art history and literature, and images of Brooks’s friends and social-media acquaintances to create a kind of transhistorical community.
In a 2005 interview, architect Oscar Niemeyer confessed, “I prefer to think like André Malraux, who said, ‘I keep inside myself, in my private museum, everything I have seen and loved in my life.’” Artist John Brooks, in his second solo show with Moremen Gallery, appears to share Niemeyer’s affinities. We All Come and Go Unknown, on view until August 21, 2021, includes nearly two dozen oil paintings that teem with references to beloved cities, films, novels, artists, actors and friends from Brooks’ global queer community.
I’m 42 now and not playing much golf. I’ve been making art to some degree my whole life and have been focusing on running my gallery, painting and selling my work. My career is finally in a good place, but golf is never far from my mind. I went to the U.S. Open in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills. I attended the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah. Last fall, I drove up to French Lick in Indiana to watch the Senior LPGA Championship. I can still cite stats that I memorized about the great LPGA players of the 1980s. As an architecture buff and a huge Seth Raynor fan, one of the things I really miss is playing great layouts. Some favorites of mine include Pinehurst No. 2, Royal St. George’s, Southampton Golf Club, Friar’s Head, Valhalla and the Old Course.
Brooks’s promotion of expansive thinking connects to his work in curation (as the director of Quappi Projects he steers the gallery’s exhibition program), and to his interest in poetry. He describes himself as “a person who writes constantly in my head as I move throughout the day.” Though it felt natural for him to eventually connect his painting to his poetry practice, the result was nonetheless transformative. The titles for his most recent body of paintings are all drawn from his poetry. His series of work, “A Map of Scents,” on view at Moremen Gallery during the summer of 2019, employs this strategy of poetically titling his pictures, as well as a fresh aesthetic that Brooks explains came from integrating his process of collage-making into his painting.
Connecting writing and visual art, Brooks titles his pieces after phrases from his poems. Poetry also takes on a more subtle and philosophical role—just as poetry uses enigmatic language, so too does A Map of Scents require a close reading. Brooks refrains from direct narratives and overt political statements; rather, meaning takes shape as each individual work contributes to a collective gallery of memories.